Sunday, March 29, 2009

Archie Green (1917-2009)

I was sad to see in today’s news that Archie Green, labor folklorist and force of nature, passed away this week at 91. There’s a fabulous and detailed article about him in today’s NYT, so I won’t go in depth about his biography here. To summarize for my friends that didn’t know him, as a young man Archie worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps through the New Deal era, then was an organizer for the SF shipyard unions. Later he moved into academia, and was responsible not only for the way we think of “laborlore” (in fact, he coined the term) but he was also the motivating force behind the American Folklife Preservation Act, signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976. He left behind a treasure trove of publishing and scholarship, including his last work, The Big Red Songbook (a compilation of songbooks published by the Wobblies), finished a couple years ago, and The San Francisco Labor Landmarks Guidebook with the Labor Archives and Research Center, SFSU. In 2007, Archie was awarded the “Living Legends Award” by the Library of Congress.

Archie, pictured here at a New Deal Conference at CCSF last year, was a down to earth and inspiring speaker, and an advocate for the intelligent analysis of everyday life. I will always be grateful for his encouragement when I started researching the labor labels project a few years ago, and the topic I’m currently working on, the evolution of the arm & hammer logo, was inspired by a question posed by him. Mostly though, I feel indebted to Archie for persuading “the academy” to accept the idea that things that happen to everyday people are worth studying, and this idea has informed and made possible every project I’ve worked on, from labor to comics.

Archie’s family has requested memorial donations to educational institutions or to the Fund for Labor Culture and History, San Francisco.

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