Dedication of New Southeast Region Archives, remarks by Allen Weinstein, July 15, 2005
Remarks by Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States
July 15, 2005, Morrow, GA
Good morning, President Harden, Secretary Cox, Congressman Scott, colleagues, and partners. *
On February 16 I was sworn in as the ninth Archivist of the United States, so today I can celebrate my five-month anniversary with the National Archives as I join in the celebration dedicating this new and magnificent facility.
Here, as at other National Archives locations across the country, we are establishing and nurturing partnerships with professional organizations, educators and students of all ages, and leading social and cultural institutions. We are delivering research and educational programs to help the American people find and use archival records that tell our nation’s history and promote American democratic principles—specifically, accountability of the Federal Government and protection of citizens’ individual rights.
The documents and primary sources held in trust at the Southeast Regional Archives tell powerful stories and offer compelling testimony of the impact of the Federal Government on the social, economic, cultural, and technological development of the southeast United States. Hundreds of these documents are featured in the exhibit—titled "Firsthand History"—which you can see in the lobby of this building.
The archival records housed here define the ever-evolving path of civil liberties in this region, generally recognized as the cradle of the Civil Rights movement, and throughout the nation. These documents range broadly from a crude, yet chilling, Bill of Sale for Slaves at Auction . . . to the Briggs versus Elliott court case from the Eastern District of South Carolina, one of the five Federal cases comprising Brown v. Board of Education, to the gripping court testimony of Martin Luther King, Jr., Congressman John Lewis, Hosea Williams, and Fred Shuttlesworth.
Other records trace the flow of immigrants—some famous or infamous—into the region from their native lands, including German scientists who have worked on the space program and families from war-ravaged Europe who fled political and religious persecution.
The records of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration capture both the trials and successes associated with American invention and research.
Tennessee Valley Authority holdings depict and chronicle the awesome impact of electricity upon once-impoverished areas. Here, technical drawings of hydroelectric dams and modern schools co-exist with poignant personal accounts and photographs of families and cemeteries relocated for the sake of progress.
Finally, these holdings address the legacy and the occasional personal irony, of the wars to defend American democracy and its allies around the world. In particular, this building houses all of the World War I draft registrations from the entire country. In the exhibit in the lobby, I read the draft registration card of Sergeant Alvin York.
One question was: "Do you claim exemption from the draft? If so, specify grounds." York answered simply: "Yes. Don’t want to fight."
I was especially struck by this document, because last month I helped dedicate a new archive in St. Louis, where all of the official military personnel files from World War I to the present will be preserved. I read Sergeant (Alvin C.) York’s personnel file, and this man who didn’t want to fight was arguably the most well-known hero of World War I—a medal winner and the subject of a Hollywood movie. Archived records tell his story, as well as the stories of countless others.
These impressive holdings are matched only by the grandeur of this building. It is uniquely located next door to the state archives and a state university. NARA’s vision for this facility is to increase the public’s use of its holdings and services through mutually beneficial partnerships with other institutions. In the weeks and months ahead, our job will be to ensure that this amphitheater as well as the 3,000-square-foot training and conference suite, complete with videoconferencing capability, are used for educational events, exhibits, genealogical workshops, and archival and records management conferences. We cannot accomplish these goals without support, assistance, and cooperation from other institutions.
The staff of the National Archives Southeast Region has already established invaluable and productive partnerships. In 2004, working with the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site, the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, and the Atlanta Public Schools, an award-winning series of exhibits, lectures, and public forums took place, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
In recent months, a partnership with the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site began, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Other partners include the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library, the Georgia Archives, and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. A Voting Rights exhibit opens next month at the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site.
I am especially proud of the work done here with teachers and students. For the past two years, under the auspices of the Teaching American History Grant Program, archivists from the Carter Library, Georgia Archives, and the Southeast Region have trained local educators on the use of primary resources. In fact, just last month workshops were hosted for more than 100 elementary, middle school, and high school teachers from Cobb, Henry, and Fayette counties, featuring the use of archival records.
The Southeast Region is also a partner institution of the Atlanta Consortium for Higher Education, consisting of 19 colleges and universities in the Atlanta area and six affiliated libraries and archives. The six affiliates include NARA, the Atlanta History Center, Georgia Archives, Georgia Humanities Council, Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, and Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site. This consortium seeks to advance Atlanta-area higher education through academic collaboration, community partnerships, and public awareness.
These types of cooperative activities and initiatives are repeated on an almost daily basis at every regional archives and Presidential library, as well as at our headquarters in Washington, DC, and College Park, MD. Through these efforts, NARA staff and our partners are committed to promoting democracy, civic education, and historical understanding of the American experience.
The facility being dedicated today serves as a prototype for a modern archival institution, one possessing state-of-the art amenities for researchers, ample space for public programs and archival holdings, and a location conducive to community involvement and cultural development. I am truly inspired by the thought that this facility can and will serve as a gateway to the vast holdings of the National Archives. I am proud to be here today and proud—as well as humble—to head the entire, dedicated family of NARA staff at all of our facilities nationwide. Thank you.
* References to Thomas Harden, president of Clayton State University, Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, and U.S. Representative David Scott.