NC’s National Hollerin’ Contest

The 1975 Hollerin' Contest in Spivey's Corner, North Carolina | Photo By Bill Nowlin, From The Bill Nowlin Photographs (20554) In The Southern Folklife Collection At Wilson Special Collections Library, UNC-Chapel Hill

Picture it: Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina,1969. It’s the first year of the National Hollerin’ Contest + thousands of people from all over the world have gathered for pageants and games, the biggest bell pepper contest, a square dance jamboree, and most importantly, to see a hollerer be crowned champion.

This is what the third Saturday in June in Spivey’s Corner (population at the time: ~49) looked like for nearly 50 years.

If you’ve never heard of hollerin’, it is a nonverbal communication produced by the human voice. Think of a holler as the social media posts of yesteryear — a way to let your community know how you’re doing. A joyful holler at sunrise let neighboring farmers know you were up and at ‘em, a distressed holler let your pals know you got turned around in the woods + needed some help, and a ladies callin’ holler alerted her husband to come in from the fields.

In other words, hollers had meaning, and you could even break them into categoriesfunctional, communicative, distressed, or expressive.

Tony Peacock — six-time champion of the National Hollerin’ Contest | Giphy

How hollerin’ came to be is still a mystery. Some believe it comes from the Native Americans, who were using nonverbal communication long before Europeans settled the Americas, while others believe hollerin’ has African roots. Associate professor of folklore + anthropology at UNC Chapel Hill, Glenn Hinson believes that hollerin’ most likely comes from white farmers overhearing the tradition of Black hollers, originating from enslaved West Africans communicating with one another across great distances on rural plantations.

Hollerin’ died out when telephones and cars became increasingly ubiquitous, but luckily the invention of television was around to preserve tons of footage before it did. Some hollerin’ champions even made the rounds on late night television.

The hollerin’ contest started as a way to raise money for the Spivey’s Corner Volunteer Fire Department, but ended up preserving a unique + entertaining piece of NC history. So next time you’re thinking of sending your roommate a text about what to have for dinner, maybe try giving them a holler instead.