The National Hollerin’ Contest

Written By North Carolina History Project

A popular folk festival held in Sampson County for nearly forty years, the Hollerin’ Contest was rooted in the agricultural heritage of the Piedmont region of North Carolina. The community of Spivey’s Corner hosted the event from and since the late 1960s the festival attracted citizens from across the state.

In Encyclopedia of North Carolina, Craig Stinson details the folk art. In an age before the telephone and loudspeaker, farmers yelled and hollered “to communicate across large fields.” Living acres from one another, neighbors also hollered to communicate. Messages ranged from salutations such as good afternoon to emergency alerts.

Like Mule Day in Johnston County and the numerous harvest festivals throughout the state, the Hollerin’ Contest emerged out of local farm culture. However, with improvements in communication technology, hollering fell out of common practice. During a late-1960s radio broadcast, Ermon H. Godwin and John Thomas, two of the founders of the event, ironically discussed plans to start a hollering event.

After the broadcast, the Spivey’s Corner community, then only forty-eight residents, followed suit. The first event attracted over 2,000 people to Sampson County in June 1969. Time, the Associated Press, and numerous other media outlets provided press coverage. Dewey Jackson, the festival’s first champion, hollered a version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  President Richard Nixon sent him a congratulatory note.

Television shows such as The Tonight Show and magazines such as Sports Illustrated have featured event contestants and winners and increased the event’s popularity. The National Hollerin’ Contest was an annual event, held on the third Saturday in June. According to Craig Stinson, the contest’s central goal was to continue “the art of hollering alive in the state and raising funds for the Spivey’s Corner Volunteer Fire Department.” However, in the 2000s hollering started to “fade as a tradition,” says Jeremy Markovich of Our State. So the last contest was in 2016.