Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives co-chairman Kaye Minchew (fourth from left) thanks Gov. Nathan Deal for supporting the archives Monday.
ATLANTA Historians, genealogists and academians let out a sigh of relief Monday.
That’s because Gov. Nathan Deal signed the transfer of the Georgia Archives from Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office to the state’s university system into law.
The transfer was a solution to the very real threat of closure the archives faced last fall when Kemp announced plans to end walk-in traffic because of budget cuts. That sparked months of protests by archives supporters intent on not just making the transfer a reality, but to also secure more funding for it.
The bill signing marked the culmination of those efforts.
“Governor, we came to you last September on behalf of the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives, and the Friends of the Georgia Archives, and asked for your help to save the Georgia state archives,” coalition co-chairman Kaye Minchew told Deal. “We’re here today on behalf of the coalition and the Friends of the Georgia Archives and the university system to say ‘Thank you.’”
The archives will officially become a division within the University System of Georgia July 1.
For months, university system officials have looked at how they will absorb the state’s historical records and the responsibilities that come with having to maintain and preserve their stories for future generations, said Clayton State University President Tim Hynes.
“We think the university system in general, and to some extent Clayton State in particular, offer some opportunities to leverage our higher education resources to help preserve those stories,” said Hynes, chairman of the transfer advisory committee.
What it means for Clayton County
Clayton County came out a winner because it gets to keep an important attraction without having to worry about falling axes for the foreseeable future.
Grant Wainscott, the county’s economic development director, said the county went into “emergency mode” when it appeared public access to the Georgia Archives would be scaled back.
That’s because the county has a lot riding on both the state archives and the neighboring National Archives at Atlanta from an economic development standpoint. The attraction of genealogy-related businesses to Morrow is a key piece of the county’s planned University Station development on Jonesboro Road.
“This is hugely important,” said Wainscott. “The long-term stability of the archives, the facility in Morrow, is critical to our economic development efforts. It’s critical to sort of the social fabric of the community. Between the state and national archives, when they relocated there a decade ago, it helped shape that whole corridor.”
Several archives supporters have used the economic impact argument to support their case for keeping the archives open, and for expanding its operations.
In a way, the Georgia Archives and the National Archives at Atlanta are tourist attractions for Clayton County. While they lack roller coasters and gift shops, they do bring visitors to Morrow, including many out-of-state guests, said Joseph “J.B.” Burke, the city’s mayor.
The common argument made by historians and genealogists is that they spend money in Clayton County restaurants and retail stores when they visit the archives.
“It’s like a rare day that I would come to the state archives and not go out to eat or go shopping or do other things while I’m there,” said Minchew.
At a time when Clayton County’s reputation has suffered from a myriad of issues, the county needs every positive story that it can get, officials have saidl,
“To have the archives housed in the city of Morrow, and in Clayton County, is just such a wonderful feather in our cap,” said Burke. “We just could not lose this.”
What’s next for the archives?
University system Chancellor Hank Huckaby put one rumor and fear to rest this week: The Georgia Archives won’t leave Clayton County.
“I see no reason for it to move quite frankly,” said Huckaby. “I don’t know to where we would move it. I have not been in the facility recently, but as I understand, it’s a great facility for this purpose and there’s plenty of expansion room.”
Beyond that, the archives’ future still has to be sorted out by university system officials.
The university system’s long-term plans for the archives aren’t set, Huckaby explained. He said officials will review the transition committee’s report on how to incorporate the archives into the system.
“Then, we will begin to look longer term,” Huckaby said. “We will probably broaden the umbrella of the folks who will be involved from the university system and look at how we can — in the near term— expand the services at the archives, and also begin to focus on how it can become an ongoing asset to the education functions of the University System of Georgia.”
He didn’t say the system is prepared to restore days of operation at the archives, though. In recent years, the Secretary of State’s office has gradually scaled back the number of days the archives is open because of budget cuts.
It is presently open to the public for only a couple of days each week.
Hynes confirmed Clayton State’s archival studies students will help with the archives’ operations in some fashion, but their exact involvement has not yet been determined.
“That’s something we still need to work out with the archivists,” said Hynes.
Minchew and Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives co-chairman Ken Thomas said the $300,000 the state Senate added to the archives’ budget at the last minute this spring will help. However, they added another $800,000 is needed to get it back to an ideal operating level.
Archives funding will remain a key issue during the 2014 legislative term.
“You’ve gotta shoot big because you need to get it back open with enough staff to make the place run like it should be,” Thomas said. “You have this fabulous facility with only four people running it and one manager for the building.”