Governmental transparency means Archives shouldn’t be closed • Glenn Eskew
Thank you for the article on Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s plan to close the Georgia Archives that referenced Madison’s own Carroll Hart who for nearly 20 years worked to make these very records accessible to the public. Having state records available assists the community in so many ways from informing citizens of their cultural heritage to promoting historical tourism to documenting the affairs of state to help keep government honest.
As the Citizen revealed last year, the discovery of an old map in the former law office of Roy Lambert—after verification by a state archivist whose job is now in jeopardy—turned out to be the oldest known drawing of Morgan County! This is the kind of work most people associate with the archives, but also stored here are all the political appointments and committee reports, budgets and contracts that oversee the billions of dollars spent by the state. While residents can thank Morgan County Commissioners for keeping the Morgan County Archives open and praise Mr. Marshall “Woody” Williams for his commitment to local records, citizens should be equally concerned over the maintenance and accessibility of state records.
The great Patriot and President Thomas Jefferson understood that having an informed electorate is the only way to safeguard the Republic. The French observer of Jacksonian Democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, recognized that the public’s right to know the workings of state government is what made America exceptional. Our neighbor across the Chattahoochee opened the first state archives in the nation in 1901 so that Alabamians could study their glorious past, and Georgians—recognized their history was equally meritorious—followed suit in 1918. As the Nazis began to lock away and destroy German records under fascism, President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened government up to the people by creating a central department for federal record keeping that resulted in the 1934 National Archives. Every president since the Republican Herbert Hoover has enshrined the papers of his administration in a Presidential Library visited by historians and the curious alike. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 overthrowing decades of oppressive Soviet rule, the first thing the free Russians did was open the Communist archives so that scholars, journalists, and others could look into seventy years of torturous totalitarian rule. The same kind of investigation of the past has occurred in liberated authoritarian regimes such as Guatemala and South Africa.
Yet the state’s closing of the Georgia Archives to the public suggests something sinister, as if those in power have something to hide. Transparency in government requires that this decision be repealed. Please contact Secretary of State Kemp and Governor Nathan Deal and tell them so!
Printed in the October 11, 2012