“Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft,” is a quote by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. I love studying history and learning about the past. I always have. History shows us where we were and how we got to where we are today. History is also a good teacher. You can learn about the mistakes that were made in the past and have the knowledge not to make them again.
Most people living here probably don’t realize just how lucky they are to have a county archives run by people like Penny Cliff, Claude Burgess and Bonnie Smith. Not only is the history of Upson County available at their fingertips, but Penny, Claude and Bonnie go out of their way to help you find whatever you need.
Usually at least once a week you can find me over at the archives. They are invaluable to me as a journalist covering a variety of news. When I needed more information about the historic Winecoff Hotel fire in Atlanta in which four girls and their teacher from Thomaston died, I went to the archives. When what is believed to be the remains of Grays Ferry was found in the Flint River, I went to the archives to find more information on both that ferry and other ferry crossings in the area. And when I wanted to find a photo of how the Church of Crest Nazarene looked prior to the suspicious fire that burned it to the ground on Sept. 16 (see the front page of today’s paper for more information), I went to the archives.
While you might think that with all those visits, I spend hours and hours in the archives, I actually don’t have to. Knowing that I’m usually on a deadline, Penny or Claude will give up some of their precious time to do the research for me and have the information I need ready when I get there. Of course, it also helps that they pretty much know where to look right away, while I would be starting from the beginning every time.
And even on that rare occasion when they don’t have the historical information I need, they know where I can find it. One of the places they might suggest is the Georgia State Archives, located in Morrow. There you can find a tremendous amount of historical information about Georgia and its people. Unfortunately, Secretary of State Brian Kemp has decided to close the State Archives to the general public. He cites as reason the requirement for a 3 percent budget reduction for all state agencies. Kemp has chosen to take the required cut of $750,000 entirely and only from the State Archives. In addition to the elimination of public access, staff reductions concerning the ten remaining staff are planned and will also be announced soon.
According to The Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives, this action further cripples an institution that was among the first state archives established (1918), has won many awards for its programs and state-of-the-art archival facility, and has been a respected leader in archives, government records programs, and research use. Over the past decade, however, the Georgia Archives has been eviscerated by regular budget cuts, reductions in staff and reductions in public hours to 2 days a week. Now Secretary Kemp wants to eliminate even those few hours of access for Georgia’s citizens, making Georgia Archives the only state archives without public access hours.
I think this is a travesty, and I hope you do, too. We have a chance of reversing Kemp’s decision, but only if our voices are heard. If you feel our history is too important to be kept from us, call the Governor’s Office, the Secretary of State’s Office, and our state legislators and let them know we need our State Archives to stay open. Closing the archives is a mistake of historical proportion.