More than 100 passionate supporters heard several equally passionate speakers at Wednesday’s rally in support of the Georgia Archives.
Protestors outside the capitol called for the Archives to remain open, the employees to remain and Secretary of State Brian Kemp to be impeached.
Speakers inside the capitol added their voices., speakers, including former U. S. Rep. Bob Barr, University of Georgia history professor Jim Cobb, Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society chairman Emma Davis-Hamilton, two state legislators, Sen. Gail Davenport from Clayton County and Rep. Debbie Buckner from Talbot County, and Morrow Mayor J. B. Burke
Former U. S. Rep. Bob Barr called the Secretary of State’s decision to close the Archive “short sighted” and questioned the legality of closing the facility. “Reasonable access” to the historical records, he said, “is not discretionary. It is mandatory… it essential to having a free people and an educated people.”
“The records do not belong to Brian Kemp or Nathan Deal,” Barr said, prompting loud applause and cheering. “They need to hear from us, politely and respectfully, but loud and clear, that this decision will not stand.”
Closing the Archives, with its historic documents dating back to 1733, said University of Georgia Professor Jim Cobb, “is like wrapping up the Hope diamond and putting it under the seat of my truck.”
The $730,000 needed to keep the Archives open with the current service level and employees, he pointed out, is less than half the operating budget of Go Fish, former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s much publicized “educational center” in Perry.
Prof. Cobb suggested that Georgia increase its cigarette tax to the national average, a move he said would raise $500 million. Or, he said sarcastically, the state could sell special license plates: “Historically ignorant, but a great place to smoke.”
Comparing the closing the Archives to the burning of courthouses by Union Gen. W. T. Sherman on his march through Georgia, Prof. Cobb said the state is “handing the keys to the Archives to old Billy Sherman.”
Emma Davis-Hamilton, chairman of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, grew up hearing stories about her ancestral home. “Georgia had a bad name,” she said. At the Georgia Archives she found records verifying that her ancestors had registered to vote and owned land shortly after the Civil War. The story of black Americans may not be in history books, she said, but it is in the Georgia Archives. “Don’t lock my history away again.”
Sen. Davenport spoke about the economic impact of the Archives on Morrow, Clayton County and the state of Georgia. She received a standing ovation when she declared that “on Oct. 31 no one should lose their jobs.”
Rep. Buckner agreed, adding that the start-up time for new employees would be more costly than keeping the current employees in place. She said she understands the dilemma caused by declining revenues, but keeping the Archives open “is not only the legal thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced last month that the Georgia Archives would absorb the entire three percent budget cut required of his department. He also said that seven of the remaining 10 employees would be terminated.
Kaye Minchew, co-chairman of the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives, told the supporters that she hopes “we’re in good shape with the supplemental budget.” However, she added that she expects the Archives to close from November to mid-March.
Dianne Cannestra, chairman of the Friends of Georgia Archives and History, moderated the event.
Vivian Price Saffold