North Carolina Folk Heritage Award Citation

North Carolina Folk Heritage Award Citation

Edited by Beverly B. Patterson

[In 1993, Louise Anderson was selected by the North Carolina Arts Council to be one of eight recipients of the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award, (now simply the North Carolina Heritage Award). This award is the state’s highest honor in recognition of our traditional arts and artists. On the evening of June 10, 1993, the eight recipients appeared in a memorable ceremony at Stewart Theatre in Raleigh. As part of the program, Louise told her story “The Walk-Off People” to a standing-room-only audience and received a standing ovation. It was her last public appearance. This citation, written by NCAC Folklife Specialist Beverly Patterson, is from the award ceremony program book and was based on materials, including the above “Personal Resume,” that accompanied the award nomination.]

In an African-American community rich in speech and narrative traditions, Louise Anderson has become a master storyteller. She has always lived among family and friends who could match wits and entertain each other with poems, toasts, and tales. In perfecting these arts herself, she has drawn on personal experiences and accounts of “slick snakes, mad dogs, and weird people” for stories that transcend differences of age, sex, religion, and color.’

Born in Georgia in 1921, she was the fourth child of John and Bertha Davenport Anderson. Since age three, she has lived in North Carolina, growing up in High Point and then moving to Jacksonville when her family relocated there in 1941. Both parents were good storytellers. She remembers that, “people used to hang around at the filling station just to hear daddy tell stories.”

Among her early memories of her mother, who did domestic work during the day, are the games she played with the children in the evenings—“Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Hambone,” “Rabbit Hop”—and her stories. “I know her stories and sometimes tell them now” she says. “I know how frightened she was as a young woman in Buckhead [Georgia] when the Ku Klux Klan marched. I know how one of her uncles got word that a white man was coming to get him, and the uncle sent word back, “Tell him to come on, the table is set.” Ms. Anderson remembers the fears being countered by the “wonderful feeling in that house when people were telling stories . . . a feeling of everybody in there loving you and [of] you belonging.”

During her teenage years, she found further encouragement and inspiration in her local community. When she was a student at William Penn High School in High Point, the principal, who also “directed the choir, sponsored the debating club, and taught black history,” gave her many opportunities to give public “recitations.” Ms. Anderson realized then that she loved to perform before an audience.

She honed her skills in social gatherings as she and her friends regaled each other with their own versions of “Signifying Monkey,” “Titanic,” and other traditional toasts well known in many African-American communities. She absorbed still more verbal forms and styles of speech from the sermons, prayers, and testimonies she heard in church.

The civil rights movement made Ms. Anderson aware that these traditional speech ways were important expressions of African-American identity, and she sought performance opportunities that would promote understanding of them. She sees humor as one of the most important elements in the stories she tells. “A nation that can’t laugh, can’t survive,” she says. “We were able to laugh--like Br’er Rabbit. You laugh and you keep on going because there’s going to be another day. You’re going to see something else.”

Louise Anderson’s storytelling has delighted thousands of people across the state. Audiences have heard her in North Carolina’s Visiting Artist program, and in festival, film, and stage performances. Even in casual conversations, however, she often reminds her listeners that, “to know each other, you have to talk—and tell each other your own stories.”