Is Georgia padlocking its past by closing its archives?

A repository of Georgia history, the Georgia State Archives will be closed to the public, a decision that noted historian James Cobb calls a mistake. (Georgia State Archives)

A repository of Georgia history, the Georgia State Archives in Morrow will now be closed to the public, a decision that noted historian James C. Cobb calls a grave mistake. (Georgia State Archives photo)

Here is an interesting opinion piece by historian James C. Cobb of the University of Georgia about the budget-driven decision last week to close the Georgia State Archives to the public.

The closing has upset researchers, genealogists and history buffs statewide, and a petition drive is under way to reverse the decision.

Former president of the Southern Historical Association and an oft-quoted expert on the American South, Cobb has written several books, including The Selling of The South: The Southern Crusade for Industrial Development, 1936-1990, and The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity. His most recent book, Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity, was published in 2005.

By James C. Cobb

Two years ago at this time, the Friends of Georgia Archives and History held their annual meeting under the pall cast on the proceedings by a recent announcement that the rich collections and resources of the Georgia State Archives would henceforth be available to individual researchers only on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

Honored by the invitation to speak to this beleaguered band of believers in the vital importance of not only preserving the past but keeping it accessible to the public, I mused that what then seemed a truly Draconian cutback in research hours was yet another sign that we, as a state and a society, appeared to be succumbing to something akin to nostalgia for the Dark Ages. I meant this as an attempt at dark humor, but even then it hit too close to the mark to be very amusing, and since then the distinction between nostalgia and reality has all but evaporated. The archives’ research hours were slashed even further to Fridays and Saturdays only last year, and with this week’s announcement by Secretary of State Brian Kemp that, as of Nov. 1, the facility will be “closed to the public,” the handwriting on the wall has effectively become a death sentence.

To make the punishment even more cruel and unusual, in October, the state’s most vital historical repository will mark its final days on Death Row during what Gov. Nathan Deal is set to proclaim as “Georgia Archives Month.”

The hypocrisy of this absurd charade becomes even more blatant in light of the fact that we, as Georgians and southerners, have long and steadfastly declared our profound respect for the power and importance of the past. It is surely worth noting that none of our less affluent southern neighbors, who are facing the same economic woes plaguing us, has even come close to shutting down its state archives.

Mississippi’s is still open to researchers six days a week, South Carolina’s five, and Alabama’s four, in addition to one Saturday a month. The archives of the respective states have functioned heretofore as a cooperative resource network through which, regardless of where they live or what drives their curiosity, researchers can examine historical evidence of all sorts. Contrary to the impression we are sometimes given, these research facilities do not function solely or, I dare say, even primarily, for the benefit of professors and graduate students. They offer vital records and documents to a broad variety of individuals seeking information about legal actions, property transfers, boundary disputes, and other matters of genuine practical value.

More importantly still, perhaps, the archives of every state provide vital personal clues as to who were are and whence our “people” came, not to mention the history of the communities that we now call “home.” By closing our archives, we are effectively reneging on our commitment to cooperate with other states in maintaining a historically informed citizenry, here and elsewhere.

As befits cultures in which history has traditionally been passed on to younger generations through oral narrative, an old African proverb holds that “every time an old man dies, a library burns,” the implication being that if a people fail to collect and pass on vital information about their past, it will eventually be lost to them. Rather than become historically ignorant in stages and over time, our elected officials in Atlanta have opted, either actively or tacitly, to hasten our descent into self-induced historical amnesia, regardless of the consequences for contemporary generations and, worse still, for those yet to come.

The best hope for forestalling this tragedy lies in contacting Gov. Deal and let him know how strongly you feel about this shortsighted and embarrassing decision to put a padlock on our state’s past.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

54 comments Add your comment

cris

September 17th, 2012
6:29 am

yes, contact Gov. Deal or your legislator….while you’re at it, ask them why they’ve also cut the ethics commitee that oversees whether or not the lobbyists are getting too too friendly with money and perks…oh wait…

Is anyone else seeing what I’m seeing when it comes to our state government?

mountain man

September 17th, 2012
6:32 am

And most of the people who are complaining about closing the archives would scream bloody murder if they instituted a fee so that those who use the archives pay for that priviledge. Of course, if someone else gets taxed, that is OK.

mountain man

September 17th, 2012
6:33 am

So where would you like your money to go – to the archives or to education? I guess they could cut education funding some more to pay to keep the archives open.

You get what you pay for.

mountain man

September 17th, 2012
6:37 am

Here is an idea – for the people who want the archives to stay open – make a deal with Deal – if they can have fundraisers and produce enough in donations to fund the archives to stay open, then so be it.

There are a lot of important things that have to be funded with our State taxes – Medicaid being probably one of the biggest. (and then education, although not necessarily from State taxes) You have to choose what is the most important.

turn out the light when you leave

September 17th, 2012
6:42 am

pushing state funding to private schools and charter schools that have nostate mandated guide lines … dutting funding to public schools … blaming the teachers when video game zombies (I mean students) don’t learn … furlough days … sky high health premiums … handouts to big businesses and going after every penny and dime from the small business man .. destroying the middle class … now closing the State Archives

Yes, an illiterate and ignorant populace helps the ruling party stay in power. things will only get worse before they get better.

catlady

September 17th, 2012
6:55 am

cris, you wrote exactly what I was going to!

Has Go Fish closed down? What about some of Sonny’s other boondoggles?

Let’s keep them in the dark.

Mountain man, by your reckoning, should only those who pay extra for it get the services of food safety inspectors? Flight safety folks? How about hazardous waste disposal inspectors?

Another Voice

September 17th, 2012
7:07 am

More opportunities for state to dumb down Georgia. Geez. Will it ever end? How about cutting the guberNathan’s staff some? Seems like a lot of empty heads in that department.

Pride and Joy

September 17th, 2012
7:14 am

Archives are education.
Surely we could have a fund raiser anad recruit volunteers to run it.

dc

September 17th, 2012
7:56 am

keep everything open, give free services to all citizens….and while you are at the North Pole, say hi to Santa. This is why we MUST have a balanced budget amendment for the federal govt. Without it, no pol in their right mind would make tough decisions, including which valuable ( but less valuable, like the archive) services have to be cut. Thank goodness we have govt officials in this state that understand everything they do has a price, and are willing to cut things that aren’t the highest priority.

Karl Marx

September 17th, 2012
7:59 am

Is Georgia padlocking its past by closing its archives?

No of course not. They are just insuring that the” Go Fish” museum will be fully staffed for the massive influx of 3 car loads a week that visit it. Thanks to another “Sonny Do” where Sonny Did It, to us.

Woody

September 17th, 2012
8:15 am

This is just a symptom. Ask instead: why is Georgia such a poor state?

Whirled Peas

September 17th, 2012
8:23 am

Let those who want it, pay for it. Don’t pick the pocket of taxpayers. Would someone please tell Maureen Downey that nothing is free. Someone always pays for it, and that someone is usually the taxpayer.

jd

September 17th, 2012
8:24 am

By locking up history, Georgians will no longer fear discovering what they do not know.

Atlanta Mom

September 17th, 2012
8:37 am

I agree, let those who want it pay for it. Just like the new stadium for the Falcons.

Batgirl

September 17th, 2012
9:09 am

Yes, Dr. Cobb, our officials do want to return us to the Dark Ages. My understanding is that the legislature is also slashing funding to school libraries and that media specialists are to be replaced with parapros. (Maureen, do you know anything about this?) While our school libraries certainly do not have the resources of the archives, they are a starting point for students on their way to facilities such as the archives and research libraries.

As another great UGA history professor, Dr. Phinizy Spalding, once said, “Duke’s up!”

Jim Cobb

September 17th, 2012
9:37 am

I am sure that a reasonable usage fee would be fine with any of us who believe the archives must stay open. As to either/or situations relative to further cuts in other state services, that scenario assumes that potential sources of additional revenue are not available. It is generally agreed that simply bringing Georgia’s cigarette taxes up to the national average would raise an additional $500 million, not to mention the long-term savings in public and private health care costs. Two-tenths of 1 percent of that figure would keep the archives going, and obviously a lot more would be available to address other needs.

KID

September 17th, 2012
9:55 am

Jim Cobb, I agree with you.

Entitlement Society

September 17th, 2012
10:25 am

Tough times bring tough choices.

bootney farnsworth

September 17th, 2012
11:01 am

as state property, they legally can’t obstruct the archives

bootney farnsworth

September 17th, 2012
11:02 am

this has nothing at all to do with expenses, and everything to do with keeping our noses out of their business.

bootney farnsworth

September 17th, 2012
11:05 am

considering the way the state wastes money, it could easily be funded IF the state wanted to and IF
the state was willing to cut funding to various fishy projects.

considering Deal was considered one of the most unethical members of Congress before he bailed, is anyone surprised?

Parade of Knuckleheads

September 17th, 2012
11:08 am

Budget This:
Reduce the salaries of all elected boo-boos by 3% or more !

Prof

September 17th, 2012
11:16 am

Many here say scornfully: impose a user fee! Don’t make the taxpayer pay! But that doesn’t seem to be an option; the state is simply closing the Georgia State archives. WHY doesn’t the state institute some sort of user fee that would cover the cost of the few personnel needed to keep it open? I certainly agree that they should be kept generally accessible.

Angela Palm

September 17th, 2012
11:29 am

@Batgirl
I think you are referring to a recommendation before the Education Finance Study Commission. If so, the recommendation is to fund media specialists at 1:675 for all programs instead of the varied funding ratios we have now and to create a media clerk position, funded at 1:950. The clerk position was listed as minimum wage, 40 hours/week, 37 weeks per year.

The Commmission meets Wed. to adopt their recommendations which then go to the Governor before any legislation is written.

3schoolkids

September 17th, 2012
11:57 am

What a waste, it is a beautiful building and was designed with providing great conditions for research use in mind.

“March 31, 2005
New Georgia State Archives Building Wins
AIA/ALA Architectural Award
The Georgia Archives, Morrow, Ga., by Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, for the Development Authority of Clayton County”

“The architect’s major intentions were to design around how the state agency works, and for how visitors may enjoy the education, research, and cultural opportunities presented, while maintaining adequate security for staff and collections. Notable features are the building’s pervasive natural light, tempered with high-performance glass to eliminate UV penetration, along with sunscreens and porches.”

The old building downtown was a holy mess and made you feel like you were researching in prison.

I don’t see the sense in closing it to the public. They will still have to fund maintaining and securing the building and the documents. Surely there is a way to staff it with a combination of paid personnel and qualified volunteers or University interns.

Hillbilly D

September 17th, 2012
12:01 pm

In my opinion, this is an age old political strategy. A department head is told to cut his budget so what do they always do? They cut something that they know will have the most blowback. Later on, they “restore” the cuts after the resulting firestorm. They paint themselves a hero and they didn’t have to cut their own pet project. This has gone on forever and it always will.

As for the Archives, those belong to the people, same as the records at your local county courthouse. It’s all public record and should remain so.

Hank

September 17th, 2012
12:06 pm

The Georgia Archives (then housed at Rhodes Hall at 1516 Peachtree) was the reference and research facility used by Margaret Mitchell to write Gone with the Wind. With the current interest in ancestry, especially among African Americans, (note that Michelle Obama traces her roots to Rex, Georgia in Clayton county, doesn’t it seem that our “Run government like a business” crowd could be more entrepreneurial and promote this critical link to our past?

Bhorsoft

September 17th, 2012
12:25 pm

Usage fees will help and I’m sure most users would be happy to pay a reasonable fee. That said, archives (and libraries and museums) are not profit centers. The costs to run them will almost always be more than the money generated by fees.

The question for us citizens are our priorities. Yes, public safety is a high priority as are transportation projects and helping keep our population healthy. However, in Georgia education seems to be a lower priority. It seems more and more that we want to transfer basic education from a public function to a private function. That may or may not work for schools, but trying to transfer our archives, libraries and museums to private enterprise will not work – there isn’t, never was, and never will be any money in it.

Rob

September 17th, 2012
1:08 pm

Hooray for the stupidity that is Nathan Deal.

Laura C. Lorenzana (@ArchivalBiz)

September 17th, 2012
3:08 pm

As an Archivist and Genealogist, I am surprised that this move hasn’t garnered a more concerned response. This is NOT about history. This is about closing public access to the documents the State creates every day. That’s right; the government that was formed for and by the People is no longer open to the citizens in the State of Georgia. I find it interesting that very few people see this for what it really is: a method of reducing accountability by saying, “gosh, we’re sorry, we can’t give you a copy of that budget (or transaction receipt or transcription of debate, etc.). That is what this is really about, and the State of Georgia has just opened the door for every other State in financial crisis (is there one that’s not?) to do the same. Yes, contact the Governor, but tell him you don’t want YOUR government to be withheld from you.

Another comment

September 17th, 2012
3:33 pm

I have been doing research on my daughter’s family on her father’s side. The ironic thing is that
I have found many items researched by her Republican

Another comment

September 17th, 2012
3:46 pm

I have been doing research on my daughter’s family on her father’s side. The ironic thing is that
I have found many items researched by her Republican relatives from North Georgia up in Deal country. Up along hwy 54, between Pickens, Forsyth and Hall county. all of these researchers of their revolutionary and confederate history will not be very Happy with Deal and crew. Most of them are 50 plus.

This is a very foolish mistake by not so bright Brian Kemp.

bootney farnsworth

September 17th, 2012
4:12 pm

what’s scary is the idiots downtown can do this, and almost nobody knows or cares….

yet let the dawgs fall to 2-2 …..

Diane

September 17th, 2012
4:16 pm

I have a hard time subscribing to the view that Kemp chose to make the required cut to his budget with some sort of reverse logic that would in the end result in more funding for the Archives. In whacking this one item instead of trimming some from all his sections, I think he just went for the easy move, figuring there would be little outcry because he thinks few people care about archives anyway. He was wrong.

Mountain Man

September 17th, 2012
4:24 pm

“yet let the dawgs fall to 2-2 ”

NOW you are talking about something REALLY important.

Hillbilly D

September 17th, 2012
4:49 pm

If you’re on Georgia Highway 54, you’re quite a ways from Forsyth, Pickens and Hall counties.

Gagiggles

September 18th, 2012
12:31 am

What’s in the archives is our history! Don’t throw away what our state has collected together for not only people in GA use this information, but others from other states as well. We have many in the Central GA area doing genealogy. Right now I have over 18,000 names!

Recall Kemp

September 18th, 2012
12:43 am

Let’s give the Archives to Clayton State, they are across the street, and it can be funded as part of the University System of Georgia, and then Kemp can play political brinkmanship with the corporation division. Anyone know, why the Secretary of State needs a motor vehicle budget of 150k a year? or Anyone wonder, why the bulk of the Archives budget is paying rent to the state in their state owned building? Their whole budget appears to be a shell game of some sort.
Regardless of how this plays out, Kemp has lost my vote next time, and if Deal fails to act, he will follow.

Brenda Taylor

September 18th, 2012
9:01 am

I retired from a genealogy library. I cannot believe that cuts have already been made that limit the amount of time you can spend at the GA Archives. The Archives are vitally important to anyone conducting research — whether to secure information needed in writing a book or seeking personal research on one’s family history. This is an outrage. Please find other ways to make budget cuts.

Wondering

September 18th, 2012
9:55 am

Recall Kemp: Go look at how agency budgets are done. Every agency pays the Georgia Building Authority for its office space and maintenance. Kemp isn’t doing anything different. His office also oversees elections statewide, which requires people to travel. $150k a year to drive all over Georgia is not a huge expense and is frankly small given the responsibility.

People taking potshots from the peanut gallery is why Georgia is in this mess. When budgets are cut, priority calls have to be made. Kemp stepped up to it. If you really want to eliminate $150k to oversee elections, remember that the amount of his budget used to keep the Archives open two days a week was over 5 times that. What else do we cut? How about his business or professional licensing functions?

All cuts have impacts. Sorry your bull got gored but I would rather see us cut (not eliminate) access to the Archives that most of the other cuts proposed in this and other blogs. Those needing to conduct research can plan ahead and make an appointment. Unless GA raises its revenues (taxes and fees), expect more of the same from other departments.

Serfergirl

September 18th, 2012
4:17 pm

“Of the 85,000 cubic feet of records in the Georgia Archives, approximately 70,000 are official state records, 6,000 are local government records, and 9,000 are non-governmental.”

(See page 3 under “Significance of Collections — which is, in itself, and interesting read: http://www.neh.gov/files/grants/state_of_georgia_sustaining_georgias_historical_records.pdf)

So, 76,000 of the 85,000 total cubic feet of archival materials consists of state and local government records. Hmm. What might they be trying to hide – ?

Serfergirl

September 18th, 2012
4:22 pm

Also, this “Save the Georgia Archives action alert summarizes the situation nicely.

Note this bullet point, especially:
> This deprives citizens of regular and predictable access, as mandated in the Georgia Records Act , Title 50, Chapter 18, Article 4, section 70(b) of the Georgia Annotated Code that all public records “shall be open for a personal inspection by any citizen of this state at a reasonable time and place, and those in charge of such records shall not refuse this privilege to any citizen.”<
http://www.fogah.org/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/action_alert_1.pdf

Michael Coon

September 18th, 2012
7:32 pm

WHAT? How many Doctoral Dissertations and Master’s Theses about Georgia people and issues will not get written as a result of this? How much revisionist history will go unchallenged because the people of the country are denied access tot THEIR history? PLEASE STOP THIS MADNESS! Without the Georgia Archives I could not have continued my academic Career! They were the only place in the world with the information I needed when I needed it! Please save public access to the Georgia Archives

hoho

September 19th, 2012
1:07 am

Thanks “Wondering” aka “Kemp’s sack”, but BK messed up on this one. If you work for the state govt, which you must, you know how much money is wasted on a daily basis on nothing. What he’s doing – meaning his insistence to deny access to state records – is not only unethical but illegal, and it’s being noticed.
Not only will I not vote for Kemp, I will actively campaign against him.

Elizabeth Dill

September 19th, 2012
1:27 am

Hi,
I’m helping lead the online efforts to reverse this terrible decision. Please sign our global petition with over 13k signature already at http://www.change.org/petitions/the-governor-of-ga-leave-our-state-archives-open-to-the-public. Our Facebook page is at: https://www.facebook.com/GeorgiansAgainstClosingStateArchives. Please help support us in our efforts to save our historic documents, genealogy and artifacts and keep public access to government documents alive. Thank you!

Patricia(sad sack)

September 19th, 2012
5:17 pm

I was so excited to finally be able to use the Archives after being in another state for several years. The Archives has essentially been closed since i have been home by only being open on Friday and Saturday. What a disappointment! Will we ever be given access to the records? I am all for fundraisers. How much do we need? What ninny decided to build that monstrosity of a building and did not look ahead at the cost to keep it open. It did not take a genius to figure that one out.
Some body put the word out and we can get this organized. Post ideas for fundraising.

southern boy

September 19th, 2012
5:50 pm

I think researchers should begin inundating the Georgia state government with FOIA requests for material stored in the state archives beginning November 2.

Lynn

September 20th, 2012
9:43 am

The Archives, both State and Federal, are a source of education. Funding education is more than paying teachers and keeping kids in their classrooms for 8 hours a day. I, for one, would be happy to pay a fee to use the Archives.

Annoyed

September 20th, 2012
5:38 pm

Perhaps “Wondering” posted his/her comment around 10am while at work for Kemp in the nicely redone Capitol office with nothing to do but read articles and make comments. There’s one more salary that could go toward the Archives budget.

Carroll B. Simpson

September 21st, 2012
11:46 am

I was very saddened when I learned about the closing of Georgia Archives. My mother moved to Atlanta for a year so she could do research at Archives to write her PhD dissertation. The law says it needs to stay open to the public. Let’s hope enough outcry from “the people” will make it happen. I know that most museums and such are funded by taxpayers. In a fair world, the people who wanted museums to stay open would pay for that–rather than the taxpayers who never go to a museum. But, Archives is different from a museum. Why? Because it’s a government-mandated function to house state records and make them available to the public. Not everyone’s house burns down–but we’re all (almost all) willing to pay for protection by the fire department.