Libraries' Special Collections bring history alive

B Y - P A T - C U R R Y

The width and breadth of American life are reflected in the University's Hargrett Library, Russell Library, and Walter J. Brown Media Archives

Tom Dyer settled into a chair in familiar, and comfortable, territory. An historian, Dyer says he's "always hanging around manuscript collections," but the document before him—"Miss Abby's Diary"—was unique. Historical, to be sure, thought Dyer, but it also exuded an undeniable air of mystery and intrigue. Dyer was aware that several scholars had tried unsuccessfully to identify the author of the diary, which had been purchased by UGA from a traveling manuscript dealer in 1976. Now, he began to read.

The 80 pages of legal-sized paper before him in the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscripts Library reached back through time. Written originally in shorthand, the transcribed account revealed the hopes and convictions of a Union patriot in 1864 Atlanta—a woman who treasured a miniature Stars and Stripes kept hidden in a sugar bowl, a woman who bit her tongue at church each Sunday as her pastor spewed venom at those vile Yankees. Never daring to speak her loyalties for fear of betraying herself and her compatriots, the woman known only as "Miss Abby" recorded the deprivations of war and the Unionists' unspoken prayers for victory.

When he finished reading the diary for the first time in 1979, Dyer, a UGA history professor, threw himself into a project that would ultimately take him to more than 30 archives nationwide and culminate with the publishing of Secret Yankees, The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).

"Without the document, there would have been no book," says Dyer, now UGA's acting dean of instruction. "There would be no knowledge of a Union community in Atlanta. The Hargrett collection is a priceless gem and the people there are absolutely stunning."

From the early days of TV to a letter written by Abraham Lincoln to the personal papers and mementoes of Sen. Russell, UGA's Special Collections are a treasure trove of information.

Top of Page: Miss Abby's Diary chronicled Unionists in 1864 Atlanta.

Priceless to be sure, the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library is one of a trio of jewels in UGA's Special Collections crown, which also includes the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies and the Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection. The Hargrett Library is used extensively by faculty and students alike. But its impact goes far beyond UGA's research endeavors. Widely respected by other institutions, the Hargrett Library is accessed daily by scholars around the globe.

"Our Internet presence and our technical ability allow us to share with a much larger audience," says Mary Ellen Brooks, director of the Hargrett Library. "Right now, I'm working with a German publishing house that is putting out a reprint of a book about Margaret Mitchell."

Beyond the millions of books and documents housed in the three special collections libraries are equally extensive collections of non-document items—from 5 million feet of unedited news footage from Atlanta television station WSB to original editorial cartoons of Clifford Baldowski to a letter written by Abraham Lincoln. The rare maps collection is one of the most popular attractions on the Hargrett Library's Web site, drawing more than 80,000 hits in a given week.

"It's linked all over creation," says Brooks. "I won't be surprised to get something from an astronaut some day."

UGA library in 1912.

Georgia wasn't founded as a colony until 1733, but the Hargrett's map collection begins with a wood cut map of the New World from 1540. Another popular map is the Peter Gordon map depicting Savannah as it was laid out when the first colonists arrived. Much as a prospective land buyer would receive a color brochure or a videotape today, the map was used as a marketing tool, says Brooks, to entice people to make the dangerous ocean crossing and seek their fortune in Georgia. Today, scholars use these maps to trace human history.

The Special Collections serve as the library of record for the state, says University Librarian William Gray Potter. "We acquire everything we can about Georgia, by Georgians," says Potter. "From that, we spin off to other interests."

The extensive Georgiana collection, for example, dates to the original records of the Georgia colony. It's an extraordinary resource for researchers. More importantly, it's a continuous record of the state's settlement and growth. "You can use it to dispel myths, such as the misperception that Georgia was settled by convicts," says Potter. "The trustees of the colony were very selective in who they brought here. How would we know that without these primary documents? History can always be corrected as long as we have them."

Dyer, who has written three books based on research from UGA's Special Collections, agrees. "They're essential or we wouldn't have any history in this state," he says. "The collections contain correspondence, diaries, and documents that help us reconstruct the past."

In 1831, the Ivy Building housed UGA's first library. The first library building was completed in 1862, but it consisted of just one room. In 1905, a new library opened, funded by a $50,000 donation from George Foster Peabody. An expansion occurred in 1937, as the collection soared to more than 200,000 volumes. In 1953, supported by a bequest from Ilah Dunlap Little, the current building opened on North Campus. Even that structure was quickly insufficient. The Main Library annex was added in 1974 to house the overflow of more than 2 million volumes—a total which has grown to nearly 3.7 million today.

A critical part of the library's growth can be attributed to the establishment of the Special Collections Department, beginning with the purchase of the DeRenne Library in 1939. Documents dating back to the founding of the Georgia colony formed the basis for the Hargrett Library, named in 1986 for alumnus Felix Hargrett (BSCE '24), who donated his extensive collection of rare books to UGA and established a library endowment fund.

Today, the Hargrett Library is home to the original Confederate Constitution, as well as the largest collection of Margaret Mitchell's private and family papers—more than 60,000 items, including three short stories she wrote and made into books when she was 11 years old. The Mitchell collection also includes Civil War-era letters between her grandparents that clearly show where the idea for Gone With the Wind came from.

Margaret Mitchell collection houses 60,000 items, including three books she wrote when she was 11 years old.

In 1997, another member of the Hargrett family, Lucy Hargrett Draper (BSEd '66), made an astonishing gift of her own when she donated rare items from the women's suffrage movement. The collection includes a speech by Elizabeth Cady Stanton that she composed on the backs of checks as she traveled to a convention of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1888, a signature of Sojourner Truth, and even items denouncing the movement, such as the 1909 book, The Wrong and Peril of Woman Suffrage.

The Hargrett Library also houses the University Archives, which chronicle the history of UGA; a fine collection of book art; wartime propaganda posters; a fascinating performing arts collection; and extensive Georgiana.

The Hargrett Library's performing arts collection includes original costume designs from Broadway shows such as "Hello Dolly."
"The amazing thing to me is the variety," says Brooks. "We're dealing with many centuries, but a collection like ours shows a sense of continuity, of preservation, and of the various heritages that are represented. These are materials we get from mostly ordinary people who treasure them. There's something within the human spirit and the soul that makes people want to save their history.

"We're the place where that can be gathered together. We're a place that can organize Grandma's attic. Give it to us and we'll put it in boxes and folders and make a guide."

Among those who appreciate the Hargrett Library is Pat Allen, an editor at Athens' Hill Street Press. Allen has worked with the library on many projects, including two books on Margaret Mitchell. "There are lots of gems there that haven't been discovered yet. That's exciting to us," says Allen. "Our books are about the South, but our audience is national. There are many projects that could be generated there."

Having worked at the Hargrett Library, Allen understands better than most the role the library plays in preserving irreplaceable and historically significant documents.

"We shouldn't get so focused on the Internet," he says, "that we forget there is a value in the physical object. Mitchell wrote things in a school girl's composition book."

Allen has a user's appreciation for the library and its Special Collections.

"It isn't a musty place," he says. "People all over the country—and the world—use it. It's a lively place."

From the first year the Peabody Awards were presented in 1941 to recognize outstanding achievement in broadcasting, the competition has been administered through the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at UGA. So it was natural that Peabody entries—which have increased to more than 1,200 a year under the leadership of the late Peabody director Barry Sherman—would be housed in the UGA Library. Not just the winners, but all the entries—foreign and domestic, large and small markets—from the Sputnik II telecast of 1957 to a 5,000-watt radio station in Harland, Ky., which won a Peabody for crisis broadcasting during a flood.


The Nixon interviews reveal more of his core, as opposed to the guarded, paranoid, media-hater the public saw on the news.

More than 30 hours of videotaped interviews with former president Richard Nixon—most of the footage unseen by the American people—have found a permanent home in the Media Archives at the UGA Libraries.

Conducted nearly a decade after Nixon's resignation by writer, historian, and former Nixon staffer Frank Gannon, the interviews focus on the seminal issues of Nixon's presidency: China, Soviet Union, Middle East, Vietnam, and Watergate.

"These interviews present a Nixon who is several layers of the onion skin closer to the core than the guarded, paranoid, media-hater we know from the television news," says Jesse Raiford, president of Raiford Communications, which owned the tapes. Raiford says he selected the UGA Libraries as a repository for the interviews because he wanted them to be housed at an educational institution where they would be accessible.

"The UGA Libraries has a terrific staff, the facilities to preserve and protect the tapes, the resources to make them available to scholars and the public, and the ability to offer the materials to news and documentary producers," says Raiford. "The Nixon Library and Birthplace, another obvious choice, simply doesn't have the same resources."

Roughly two-thirds of the interview material is rare or unique, according to Gannon, who served in the White House as a special assistant to Nixon and flew with him to California following his resignation. Gannon spent the next four years organizing research for the writing of RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, 1978.

In the course of the interviews, Nixon frequently interrupts the exchange with Gannon to expand, modify, or rethink an answer. "Such instances would obviously be unusable in a commercial context," says Fred Guida, a professor of mass communication at Quinnipiac College. "However, in a historical/scholarly context, they often offer an added degree of insight into Mr. Nixon's thought process."

—Jean Cleveland (ABJ '81)

The Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection houses approximately 40,000 radio shows and 50,000 TV programs. Recognized as the fourth largest media archive in the country—on a short list that begins with the Library of Congress—it represents "not just the history of radio and television, but of the United States and the world, from 1941 to the present," says curator Ruta Abolins. "Every major news event is here. It's astounding."

The Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection is the fourth-largest in the country, housing 40,000 radio shows and 50,000 TV programs, from 1941 to the present.

Roughly half of the collection consists of Peabody Award entries; the other half is comprised of materials donated by broadcasters and individuals. World wars, space exploration, the civil rights struggle, presidential inaugurations and assassinations—it's all here, alongside "Sesame Street" and "M*A*S*H" on the Main Library's seventh floor. This is a virtual time machine where scholars, teachers, and students, as well as broadcast industry people and the general public, can travel through history by viewing these programs.

"We didn't fully realize what we had," says Worth McDougald, who succeeded Dean John Drewry as director of the Peabodys in 1969, "until someone from CBS came to Athens to research a network special on television in the 1950s. She said none of the three networks had kept much over the years—and she meant it. She went back to New York with 55 hours of our films."

That CBS researcher was working on a program titled, "CBS Reports: When Television Was Young," which is now a part of the Peabody Awards collection. In the first few minutes of that special, host Charles Kuralt ambles past shelf after shelf of film and says, "From these CBS archives . . ."

What the script should have said was "From the University of Georgia . . ." because 90 percent of what CBS ended up using on the air came from UGA, whose collection encompasses the best of broadcasting from the major networks to local stations.

UCLA's large broadcast collection consists primarily of variety shows and popular series, something like "The Red Skelton Show," which has been donated to the school. And Vanderbilt's archives consist mainly of nightly network newscasts since 1968. Even the Library of Congress, which once received a copy of every program copyrighted in America, can't match the scope of the Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection.

Established in 1974 as a repository for the papers of Richard B. Russell, who served in the U.S. Senate for 38 years, this collection houses the papers of more than 100 political figures and organizations—including those of its namesake, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1933-71, of former U.S. Secretary of State and UGA faculty member Dean Rusk, and the papers of both the Republican and Democratic parties of Georgia.

"One of the shining lights in how it should be done is the Russell Library," says Richard Baker, director of the U.S. Senate Historical Office. "It has followed the model of a presidential library."

The foundation for the collection are the papers and memorabilia of Sen. Russell (BL '18), whose political career spanned a half-century. He served 10 years in the Georgia House, one year as governor, and seven consecutive terms in Washington. He chaired the Senate investigation into the dismissal of General MacArthur; was a member of the Warren Commission; chaired the Armed Services and Senate Appropriations committees—even ran for president once.

Gov. Herman Talmadge supports Sen. Russell's '52 presidential nomination.

The Russell collection was the starting point for the acquisition of other political collections. Rusk, for example, was a key policy maker under presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Other notable collections include the papers of Ambassador W. Tapley Bennett, Jr. (JD '74); U.S. senators Herman E. Talmadge (LLB '36), Mack Mattingly, Hoke Smith, and J. William Harris; congressmen Dudley M. Hughes, E. L. Forrester, and Howard H. Callaway; and governors S. Ernest Vandiver Jr. (AB '40, LLB '42) and Lamartine G. Hardman.

Researchers interested in governmental investigations can access documents from the four most significant hearings since WWII: MacArthur, Warren Commission, Watergate, and Iran-Contra. The Russell Library is especially interested in older collections from minorities and women in the areas of politics, public policy, and related issues

Political columnist Bill Shipp (M '56) is also represented in the Russell Library, along with 6,000 cartoons—with thousands more on the way—from the late Clifford "Baldy" Baldowski, long-time editorial cartoonist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

While many libraries may focus their attention on collecting documents from the past, the Russell Library staff is also dedicated to preserving history as it happens. According to director Sheryl Vogt, the process of documenting an elected official's career begins shortly after election.

"When they first come into office, they don't always want to make a commitment on where to put their papers," says Vogt. "They're so geared to deadline and what they have to do for that legislative session, they're not thinking what will happen down the road when they leave office. The earlier we can get with them—to let them know there is a life for these records after they're finished with them—the better."

From 1992-94, every U.S. representative from Georgia leaving office donated his papers to the Russell Library. "We took in nine collections in a two-year span," says Vogt. "Our holdings more than doubled in that brief period of time—and we expect significant research to come out of use of these collections."

Since then, the library has begun receiving papers or has commitments from the congressional offices of Sanford Bishop and Johnny Isakson, former Georgia governor and newly appointed U.S. senator Zell Miller (AB '57, MA '58), and state labor commissioner Michael Thurmond.

Left: White House discussion between Sen. Russell and President Johnson, 1963. Right: In '60, JFK announces that Rusk is his choice for U.S. Secretary of State.

Researchers interested in the integration of the University of Georgia can study both sides of the issue by examining the Walter Lundy Red and Black Integration Issue Papers, which document the 1953 pro-integration position of student newspaper editors Walter Lundy and Bill Shipp. The library also maintains the papers of Roy V. Harris (AB '17, BL '19), a member of the State Board of Regents who was vehemently opposed to the students' position.

With such a stunning set of resources available to scholars, Potter longs for what most librarians long for: more space.

"Everything is crammed into 50,000 square feet," he says. "We also want to digitize our collections and other collections around the state to make them available to everyone on the Internet."

A new building to house the Special Collections is the number-one project on UGA's campus capital funding list; the project is scheduled to be presented to the board of regents in June 2001. Assuming it is approved, the building will be placed on the regents list and will then compete with the funding needs of all 34 institutions in the state system.

Hill Street's Pat Allen is one of those who hopes the building will be funded.

"People, particularly Southerners, talk about how important our heritage is," he says. "But when you drive down Peachtree Street, there's nothing there. What Sherman didn't burn, developers knocked down. We should put our money where our mouth is. We have this incredible repository that spans centuries and different cultures. We should preserve that and give the staff what they need."

Nearly all of the required $10 million in private funds has been pledged; chief among the donations is a $3 million commitment from the Russell Foundation, which has been matched by a $3 million donation from the Watson-Brown Foundation, named for prominent Georgia natives Thomas E. Watson and John Judson Brown. The University named the radio-TV archives for Walter J. Brown, a Washington journalist who served as special assistant to U.S. Secretary of State James Byrnes during World War II and later led a broadcasting company in Spartanburg, S.C.

The library is now focused on raising an additional $10 million for an endowment to underwrite lectures and acquire new collections.

In March, the regents gave unprecedented approval to using private money to hire an architect to design the facility for the Special Collections. The proposed 183,000-square-foot, four-story building would house all three special collections libraries, plus an auditorium, and classroom and meeting space for lectures, readings, and film screenings.

"I try not to raise expectations, but we hope to see ground broken by 2005," says Potter, who thinks the public-private partnership in funding the facility makes perfect sense. "The state should play a role in preserving history," he says, "and we touch every student on campus and every county in the state."

For students, faculty, alumni, and scholars around the world, the inherent value in the Special Collections—what is really worth supporting—is that precious historical materials are accessible to anyone interested in examining them.

"You can't go to an art museum and say,'Bring me a Picasso—I'd like to take it home for awhile,'" says Mary Ellen Brooks. "Our collection can't circulate because of the value and special handling requirements. But it's here for people to use. That's the beauty of it—it's always here."

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