Yes, Georgia has a history as rich as that of any state in the country — but if you’re trying to research that history or your family’s history in the state archives, good luck. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, whose department oversees the archives, is closing the door in your face.
He announced last week that as of Nov. 1, the archives will be open to the public only by appointment and only on a limited basis as a budget-cutting move. In addition, its staff of 10 full-time employees will be reduced.
You read that right. Even as the state is commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary), it is saying “no” to those who want to research that history.
It goes without saying that much of the genealogical and other records in the archives are not available anywhere else.
Kemp says he has to cut more than $730,000 from his department’s budget as part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s request that most state agencies pare their spending by 3 percent for next year’s budget. And the archives was apparently an easy target.
“I think it’s devastating,” Kaye Lanning Minchew of the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia archives, told the Associated Press. “The state archive holds the records of the people. So how can you not be open to the public?”
Sadly, it was already open less often than its counterparts in the region. Formerly open for at least 40 hours a week, the Georgia Archives has been skimping along at just 17 hours a week for the past year. Meanwhile, Mississippi operates its archives open six days a week and South Carolina’s is open five days, for example. Alabama’s archives is open four days a week, plus every second Saturday.
If they can do it, why can’t we? Do we care less about our past?
Moreover, the decision to open the archives on an “appointment-only” basis puts the state in the undesirable and possibly unconstitutional position of deciding which aspects of our history are suitable for scholars and others to research. It opens the door to political correctness, with one’s research project suddenly hinging on the whim or bias of faceless fourth-tier bureaucrats.
Kemp’s move was quick to draw criticism, with thousands already signing online petitions to protest the move (go to “Georgians Against Closing State Archives” on Facebook to add your name).
The Secretary says he made the decision to shutter the archive reluctantly and hopes the Legislature will restore the funding in next year’s session. We hope that’s not just empty talk, and that the governor and legislators will indeed see the need not just to preserve the contents of the state’s “attic,” but keep them available to the public.