September and October 2012 will “live in infamy” among Georgia genealogists, historians, archivists and researchers. Five weeks of worry, anger and frustration. Five weeks of bad press for Georgia around the nation and the world. Five weeks of hard work on the part of Archives advocates.
The work apparently paid off, although supporters did not get all they hoped for. Gov. Nathan Deal has given the Archives $125,000 to keep the agency open until June 31, the end of the state fiscal year. Two of the seven employees terminated by Secretary of State Brian Kemp have been reinstated. The governor wants the Archives moved out of the Secretary of State’s office to the state Board of Regents, which controls the University System of Georgia, pending approval of the Georgia legislature.
Only time will tell whether this is a positive move for the Archives.
The Board of Regents supervises Georgia’s colleges and universities, including Clayton State University, located adjacent to the Archives, as well as the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. Also under the supervision of the board are the Public Information Network for Electronic Services (PINES), which offers “borderless” library services; the GALILEO virtual library; and Georgia Libraries for Accessible Statewide Services (GLASS). GLASS provides materials to Georgia’s blind and physically handicapped. The agency has its offices in the Georgia Archives building.
The last two months have been an emotional rollercoaster for Archives supporters and employees.
In September Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced that he was taking the entire three percent cut required of his agency from the Archives. He closed the Archives to the public, except by appointment, and terminated seven of the remaining 10 employees.
Gov. Deal then promised he would find the funds necessary to “keep the Archives open.” Jubilation. A few days later he backtracked. Disappointment.
Public outcry resulted in petitions, letters and phone calls demanding that the Archives remain open and the seven employees be retained.
Almost 100 people attended the governor’s signing of a proclamation declaring October Archives Month in Georgia. Even more showed up for a rally at the state capitol, with picketers outside marching, carrying signs and shouting their wishes.
Rally speakers given loud ovations and cheers included former Congressman Bob Barr; University of Georgia professor Jim Cobb; Emma Davis-Hamilton, representing the Metro Atlanta Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and the Georgia Genealogical Society; along with state Sen. Gail Davenport, state Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Talbot County); state Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Clayton County) and Morrow Mayor J. B. Burke.
Thankfully, the governor acted before the Secretary of State’s appointment system could be tested. Researchers would have been restricted to two hours per month.
Many Georgia citizens across the state have worked tirelessly to keep the Archives open and the employees in place. Many continue to work.
The focus now moves to the 2013 session of the Georgia General Assembly, which will convene on Monday, Jan. 14. The final day will be sometime in late March. Lawmakers control just how much money the Archives will have to work with during the coming budget cycle.
The fight for the Georgia Archives is not over. Please keep writing and calling your state government officials, especially your own representatives and senators.
You can find the name and contact information for you local legislator here:
While some die-hards have been working the legislature since the deep budget cuts began, the Secretary of State’s radical actions came as a surprise to most. Once he announced the closing, however, Georgians rose up and bombarded the governor and secretary of state with letters, phone calls, emails and messages through social media. The uprising had much to do with governor’s actions.
The Secretary of State accomplished one positive thing. He got people fired up. Focused, determined, vocal people get attention and get action. Archives supporters are due a little celebration and a bit of cautious optimism. However, the battle is not over. We need to keep the spotlight on the Archives.
And, if we want to be effective advocates from here on out, we must never again become complacent.
Vivian Price Saffold