Georgia Limits Access to Archives, The AHA Responds

AHA Staff, October 2012

In response to news that the state of Georgia intends to effectively close its archives in a cost-cutting move, AHA Executive Director James Grossman sent the following letter to Governor Nathan Deal:

September 17, 2012

Dear Governor Deal:

I write on behalf of the American Historical Association—the leading organization of historians in the United States—to express our grave concern about plans to effectively close the Georgia Archives.

An early and active proponent of state archives laws in the United States, the AHA remains committed to the preservation of our heritage, and to its accessibility. We understand that a shortage of financial resources has forced the state to make some difficult financial choices, and that in such situations, everyone claims that their particular activity is sacrosanct. The Georgia Archives, however, tells the story of all Georgians. Genealogists, students, historians, journalists: all require access to these vital records to participate in the preservation of the state's heritage and the practical use of its past.

Beyond the interests of historical researchers stand a wide variety of civic-minded Georgians who depend on open access to archives. Teachers, lawyers, real estate developers, leaders of neighborhood associations—all rely not only on the vital records housed in the Georgia Archives, but on the expert advice of its archivists.

The records of any government represent the heritage of its people, and can serve that role only when its citizens have access to consult those records. Closing the doors to the Archives would represent a devastating blow not only to historians, genealogists, and others with an interest in the past, but also the state's policymakers and leaders who need a solid understanding of the past to help shape Georgia's future.

I urge you to reconsider this decision, and to work with the Secretary of State to allocate resources that will enable this vital service to remain open and accessible to all.

Regards,

James R. Grossman
Executive Director,
American Historical Association

Background on This Issue

The issue began on September 13, 2012, when Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced that "effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA will be closed to the public." .Kemp also declared his intention to "fight during this legislative session to have this cut restored so that the people will have a place to meet, research, and review the historical records of Georgia." The National Coalition for History (NCH) rapidly disseminated information about the Georgia state decision and also provided detailed suggestions for action.

Nearly every state in the union is facing budget shortfalls, and all are looking for places to trim expenses. The AHA hopes that a significant protest to Georgia's proposed cuts will also catch the attention of decision makers in other states. If a public outcry helps stop the closure of the archives in Georgia, other states will be far less likely to attempt similar actions.