A Memorial for Archie Green: A Union Man, Laborlore Scholar, Folklife Advocate and Legend

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THIS PAST MARCH, ARCHIE GREEN passed away. He was 91.
Archie collected and catalogued songs, poems, and stories
produced by ordinary people that described their work
experiences, and their lives as workers. He studied Library
Science at the University of Illinois and worked as librarian
at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations through
the 1960s. Archie was an energetic and enthusiastic advocate
for workers’ culture. He coined the term “laborlore”
which included all the things workers produced on how
they related to their work and community environment.
Archie was fascinated by the stories workers told. He
experienced this first hand on work sites. He joined the Civilian
Conservation Corps in the 1930s, was in the Seabees in
the South Pacific during World War II, and worked as a journeyman
shipwright in the San Francisco shipyards in the post
war years. He was a life-long member of the United Brotherhood
of Carpenters and Joiners of America. He combined this
experience with his life-long love of country and western
music. In the merger of these he searched for and discovered
troves of music composed by unnamed workers passed down
from one generation to the next.
Archie earned a doctorate in folklore at the University
of Pennsylvania. His dissertation was on the songs of Kentucky
coal miners and was published in 1972 as Only a
Miner. Archie went on to have a distinguished teaching
career at the University of Illinois from 1960–72 and the
University of Texas at Austin from 1975–82. His teaching
inspired scores of his students to go out and search for
folklore materials, and to advocate for the preservation
and advancement of folklore.
Beginning in 1969, Archie lobbied Congress to create
the National Folklife Center. In 1976, Congress passed the
American Folklife Preservation Act, establishing the Center
at the Library of Congress. In 2007, Archie was given
the Living Legend Award by the Librarians of Congress at a
conference sponsored by the American Folklife Center.
As a scholar, Archie has a long list of publications. His
most recent in 2007, The Big Red Songbook, features the
lyrics of 190 songs included in editions of the Industrial
Workers of the World (IWW) Little Red Songbooks from
1909 to 1973. Archie inherited the project from John
Neuhas, a machinist and IWW member who died in 1958.
Archie vowed to complete the edition.
Archie Green was an effective teacher because he was
always learning from his students. In 1973 in Washington,
I sat in on a class Archie was teaching for a group of union
leaders on labor music. The music he used was on tape as
Archie was not a performer. He played a song he had
recorded that had been written and performed by a member
of the Operating Engineers Union. This union represents
crane and heavy construction equipment operators.
The song was titled, “Pan Man Joe”. A pan man is the operator
of a large machine called a pan which scoops up a large
amount of earth or rock, and then dumps it in another
nearby area. There happened to be in the class, a business
agent from an Operating Engineers local. He said pan men
were always on good terms with bull dozer operators. Dozers
frequently have to push the pan machines through particularly
hard ground in order for them to take on an adequate
load. If the dozer operator doesn’t like the pan man
he’ll hit the pan’s back quite hard with the dozer blade,
sometime shaking the pan man off his small seat at the controls.
So on construction sites, pan men are usually quite
deferential to dozer operators. Archie could take a little
story like this and later fashion it into some larger examples
of how different groups of workers relate to each other
because of some on-the-job requirement or interdependency.
Archie showed an undying curiosity and respect for the
experiences of working people as told through their stories.
He was a good teacher because he was first a good listener.
In Memoriam
To honor the life and work of Archie Green, the
School of Labor and Employment Relations and
other campus units will hold a commemorative program,
September 14, 2009, 7–9 pm., in the Wagner
Education Center, 504 E. Armory St., Champaign.
The program will include the following:
• How Archie Taught Us to Learn from Music—
Stephen Wade, Performer Writer and Folk Music
• Archie as a Trade Unionist—Mike Munoz, Pile
Driver and Union Activist
• Archie Green & Establishing the American Folklife
Center—David Taylor, Head of Research and
Programs, American Folklife Center, Library of
• Folk Music and Laborlore: Valuable Lessons for
History—David Roediger, Professor of History,
University of Illinois UIUC
”The Fast Sooner Hound,” one of Archie’s favorite
songs, will be performed by Stephen Wade to complete
the program
A reception will follow the program. The event is
free and open to the public.

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