Research in Atlanta: A Treasure Trove of Historic Documents
Sheila McAlister, October 2006
From the Annual Meeting 2007 column of the October 2006 Perspectives
When visiting the Atlanta area, consider delving into the state's wealth of historical documents. Georgia repositories offer a wide array of subjects and genres of materials. Collections in these institutions provide examples of literature, arts, politics, religion, and life in Georgia as well as in places worldwide. This rich documentation is found in a diverse range of materials that include records, news film, daguerrotypes, wire recordings, and more.
Several Georgia institutions provide stewardship to literary collections. Among Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) specialties are the Irish Literary Revival, 20th-century British and American poetry, and African American authors. The poetry papers include those of Ted Hughes, Anthony Hecht, James Dickey, and the Belfast Group Poets. The library also has the papers of other Southern authors such as Flannery O'Connor, Robert Penn Warren, and John Oliver Killens. The Flannery O'Connor Room in Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville has the author's personal library and over 6,000 pages of literary manuscripts, including early drafts of Wise Blood, parts of The Violent Bear It Away, and several short stories. The Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia in Athens possesses the papers of Lillian Smith, Donald Windham, Corra Harris, Marel Brown, Margaret Mitchell, and of John Donald Wade, the former editor of the Georgia Review, to name a few.
The region's arts heritage is sustained by several institutions. For example, the papers and records of the Atlanta-based Neighborhood Arts Center, the Phoenix Arts and Theatre Company, the National Black Arts Festival, artist Benny Andrews, and academic Richard A. Long, all at the Auburn Avenue Research Library, highlight the importance of the arts in Atlanta's African American community. The records of Macon's African American theater owner, Charles Henry Douglass, housed at the Middle Georgia Archives, document the amusements available to Macon's African American population from 1912 to the 1930s. Dance and other artistic endeavors in Atlanta are documented in the Atlanta History Center's Atlanta Arts Alliance Record and the Atlanta Ballet Photograph Collection. The costume designs of Freddy Wittop and those of the designers for the Paris Music Hall are carefully preserved at the Hargrett Library, as are the papers of actor Charles Coburn.
A variegated view of Georgia music is provided in the holdings of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, in Georgia State University's Popular Music Collection (which includes the Johnny Mercer Collection), West Georgia's sacred harp collection, and the Walter J. Brown Media Archives' Athens Music Collection and Art Rosenbaum Folk Music Collection.
Among the collections that document the history of radio and television in Georgia and in the nation are the WSB Radio Collection at Georgia State University's Special Collections and the Peabody Awards Collection's 40,000 radio and television programs from the 1940s onward at the Brown Media Archives.
The Cherokee Garden Library of the Atlanta History Center, the Owens Library at the University of Georgia, Columbus State University, and the Middle Georgia Archives are several institutions with notable collections in architecture and landscape design.
Georgia is home to several repositories with strong political collections. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, one of the nation's nine presidential libraries, is in Atlanta. Contained here are the administrative records of President Carter and his staff, as well as papers related to his family and personal friends. Both the Georgia Archives and the Southeast Regional Branch of the National Archives are in Morrow, not far from Atlanta. The Georgia Archives documents Georgia political life since the state's inception, while the NARA branch possesses records documenting the federal government's activities in the Southeast from 1716 to the 1980s.
The Richard B. Russell Library at the University of Georgia, a mere 70 miles east of Atlanta, is the first archives to document modern politics and policy in the Southeast. Senators Richard Russell and Herman E. Talmadge, Dean Rusk, Governors Zell Miller and S. Ernest Vandiver Jr., Georgia's state Democratic and Republican parties, Leadership Georgia, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, the Georgia ACLU, and many others have deposited their records at the Russell Library.
Both Georgia State University and the University of West Georgia (in Carrollton) have robust oral history programs that have documented political life in the state. The Georgia Government Documentation Project at Georgia State contains over 250 interviews of former governors, prominent African Americans, women, political activists, and other public figures. The interviews at West Georgia with former Georgia governors and other Georgia legislators highlight Georgia politics and significant periods that include segregation, the civil rights movement, and the Vietnam War.
The papers of other prominent Georgia-related political figures and institutions are housed throughout key repositories across the state, such as Emory University (Sam Nunn); Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville (Paul Coverdale); Georgia Southern University in Statesboro (Peter Zack Geer, Bo Ginn, Joseph Kennedy, and Culver Kidd); the Atlanta History Center (City of Atlanta, Fulton County, and the Atlanta Regional Commission); and the Georgia Historical Society and City of Savannah Archives (early Savannah city records).
Repositories throughout the state support the study of religious life and movements in Georgia and the South as, for example, the Bremen Museum's Ida Pearle and Joseph Cuba Archives and the Genealogical Center in Atlanta, which contains more than 2,000 manuscript collections and over 15,000 photographs depicting Georgian Judaica. In Savannah, the site of the state's first Jewish residents, the Georgia Historical Society is home to the city's Jewish Archives, with records and artifacts that document the community's presence in the region from the 1750s to today. Both MARBL and the Pitts Library at Emory University have major holdings in the history of Methodism; at Pitts, one can delve into the papers of Methodist leaders John Henry Newman and Henry Ward Beecher as well as the records of Methodist churches established throughout Georgia. Mercer University's collection in Macon brings to light Georgia's vibrant Baptist legacy with the records of the Georgia and Southern Baptist Conventions, The Christian Index, and the records of churches throughout the state. Presbyterian life is documented within the holdings of the Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur; the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta provides an aperture to Georgia's Catholic community and its respective establishments; while the Southern Historical Center of the Salvation Army documents the legacy of Salvationists in America with its holdings of oral histories and personal collections.
Atlanta is the site of several corporate archives such as those of UPS, Home Depot, and Delta Air Lines; Georgia's economic life is documented in many other repositories throughout the state. Oral histories and business records at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Middle Georgia Archives, Shorter College, Columbus State University, and the Troup County Archives show the importance of the Georgia's textile industry and its historical role in this region's economy. The Georgia Historical Society, the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, and the Atlanta History Center are among the repositories whose materials describe the role of the railroad industry in Georgia's economic development. The documentation of Southern workers and their unions is the purview of the Southern Labor Archives at Georgia State University, the largest archives of its kind in the Southeast.
The African American community from the 19th century on is well documented by the collections at the Atlanta University Center and Auburn Avenue Research Library. The Atlanta University Center possesses the records of Atlanta's historically black colleges, Clark Atlanta University and the Interdenominational Theological Center. Both Morehouse College and Spelman College have their own archives. These collections emphasize education, literature, religion, politics, social work, civil rights, and race relations. The Atlanta University Center will be the home of Morehouse's newly purchased King papers until they can be placed for permanent display and access in a new museum on civil and human rights. The Auburn Avenue Research Library serves as the "Schomburg" of the South, documenting diverse aspects of African American life and culture. In addition, the Atlanta History Center's records of the Atlanta Schools Desegregation Lawsuit Records, 1971–1980, and the Atlanta Life Insurance Company are also of note. Both black print culture and African American activism are among the foci of MARBL's collections. At the University of Georgia, the Brown Media Archives' WSB and WALB news film collections contain footage of the civil rights movement in Atlanta, Albany, and other Southern cities. Also, the Russell Library is the repository for The Foot Soldier Project for Civil Rights Studies, a documentary and research program.
Georgia State University's Women's Collections focus on the Second Wave of women activists from the 1970s on. Progressive reformer Martha Berry's efforts to provide education for the rural poor in the Georgia mountains are found in the collections of Berry College. Wesleyan College in Macon, the first chartered women's college, holds the papers of the Soong Sisters (Madame H. H. Kung, Madame Sun Yat Sen, and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek). Collections on the education of women can be found at many of the current and former women's colleges in the state. Women's roles in their own communities are represented in the records of Georgia's many women's clubs and organizations found at the Auburn Avenue Research Library, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Georgia Historical Society, the Hargrett Library, the Cuba Archives, Atlanta University Center, and others.
Georgia's historical heritage is supported by a number of organizations, including the Society of Georgia Archivists, the Georgia Humanities Council, Georgia Association of Museums & Galleries, the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board, and the Georgia Historical Society. If you're seeking more information on these organizations or on other archival repositories and museums, see the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board's Georgia Historical Organizations and Resources Directory (www.georgiaarchives.org/who_are_we/ghrab/directory/default.htm). If you find that you don't have enough time to visit these repositories, or if you would like to have informative Georgia holdings at your disposal either before your arrival or after your stay in Georgia, two convenient online resources are the New Georgia Encyclopedia (www.georgiaencyclopedia.org), an authoritative online encyclopedia on the state, or the Digital Library of Georgia (http://dlg.galileo.usg.edu/), a gateway to digitized archival materials on Georgia life and history. Come visit Georgia's abundant wealth of history and culture.
—Sheila McAlister is assistant director of the Digital Library of Georgia, a program of the University of Georgia and the University System of Georgia. She is past president of the Society of Georgia Archivists, and is a member of the Local Arrangements Committee.