Caroline Fry is working in Special Collections for the next three weeks as part of a for-credit internship through Georgia College. She is a junior majoring in Management Information Systems.
Although Special Collections is for the most part practically perfect in every way, mistakes still manage to occur every now and then — and sometimes they’re beyond our control. Recently we received several boxes of papers from Central State Hospital that belonged to Payton B. Cook, a clinical chaplain at the hospital from the 1960s-1990s who passed away in 1998 (you can read more about him here). Yesterday, we got a call saying that the Payton B. Cook papers that we acquired from the Central State Local Redevelopment Authority needed to be returned because we do not have the proper clearance to keep it at Georgia College. It turns out that when Mike Couch, the executive director of the Central State Local Redevelopment Authority, notified and gave us the papers, he thought that we had already signed an agreement with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities giving us clearance to have the contents. On our end, we assumed that he had already cleared it with the department before notifying us about the collection. Miscommunication is universal. In summary, the state didn’t technically give the papers to us, so we have to send them back and see if we get permission to acquire them again.
In Special Collections, we’re used to unusual things popping up. It’s the very nature of a special collection. Recently, we received a call from Mike Couch at the Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority because he had some papers in his office that he thought would be best placed with us. Construction workers, planning to demolish a building at Central State, decided these papers might be important, so they decided to hand them off to Mike. It turns out those were Payton B. Cook’s papers. Rev. Cook’s name is familiar to newer residents of Milledgeville mostly because his name is on a building on Vinson Road. However, longtime residents will recall Rev. Cook as a pillar of the community, whose accomplishments were recognized by the Georgia General Assembly upon his death in 1998.
Rev. Cook was a clinical chaplain at Central State Hospital in the 1960s through the 1990s. He was an African-American who helped to integrate the hospital’s administration, and while that is certainly important, what I’ve learned about Rev. Cook through inventorying his papers is just how much he meant to Milledgeville and Baldwin County as a true public servant. He served on numerous boards for the hospital, the local community, and the state, and he traveled the southeast to encourage students studying to become clinical chaplains and preach in pulpits large and small (usually Baptist and Methodist). Business leaders wrote letters to him asking for advice, and occasionally, the area elected officials reached out to him as well. There were also notes from his young daughter, reminding him to run errands for her while she was at school.
Rev. Cook had a very busy schedule, and perhaps that explains what we ran across today while inventorying his collection — an original marriage license from Peach County, Georgia, from 1970. Rev. Cook was the officiant, and he had completely filled out the form, but it had never been mailed. I thought at first he had handwritten a copy, but the form in my hands clearly said “county original.” My next thought was that Rev. Cook had likely misplaced this copy, yet mailed a second one. I realized I had better call Peach County Probate Court to be certain. Continue reading “The Tale of the Lost Marriage Certificate”→
As graduate assistants working in Special Collections, Mikaela and I have gotten hands-on experience in just about every step of what it means to sustain a collection and/or donation. We’ve inventoried materials from the acquisitions room, we’ve processed and re-processed documents, and we’ve learned about the actions taken to seek out a collection. But how do we get there? How do the items in the acquisitions room come to be in our possession? Suffice it to say they do not magically appear though that would certainly make things easier, wouldn’t it? Of course, that wouldn’t make for as interesting a story…
Recently we took our first “field trip” (as I like to call it) out to Lake Sinclair in Milledgeville to appraise personal items at the home of William Julian Usery, Jr., a labor union activist who served in the Ford and Nixon Administrations and was eventually named United States Secretary of Labor under Ford. Born in Hardwick, Georgia, W.J. Usery attended Georgia Military College and later enlisted in the Navy as an underwater welder on a repair ship in the Pacific Feet. He’s also widely known for being a special mediator in resolving labor conflicts. When we arrived at his home, we met with Doug Heene, executor of W.J. Usery Jr.’s estate. Doug was Mr. Usery’s assistant in his consulting business. We came into his acquaintance through Melvin Usery, W.J. Usery’s son, who hoped to have several of his father’s possessions detailing his accomplishments placed in an archive. We’re grateful he’s chosen Georgia College and the town in which W.J. Usery grew up to do so.
Appraisal is defined by the National Archives as “the process of determining the value and thus the final disposition of Federal Records, making them either temporary and permanent.” The National Archives and Records Administration “works with interested parties to ensure that essential evidence is created, identified, appropriately scheduled and managed for as long as needed.” I asked Digital Archivist, Holly Croft, what appraisal has come to mean for her. She describes it as a more three-dimensional act, looking at the entire picture.
“There’s this belief that archives are ‘neutral’ and there’s a concern in the community today about the difficulty of keeping everything. There’s just no way to keep every single scrap of paper. You want to be sure you’re getting the items that are most representative of the contribution the person made.” In Usery’s case, we were concerned with showcasing his contributions in labor relations on the national level, but also Usery as a person. Some of the objects featured in this blog post, such as what we’ve dubbed, “The Dung Pony”, exemplify this. (Scroll down for a detailed picture). Holly says, “It’s really about creating the story of who the person is. It’s not a neutral act; it is making a judgment call. You have to be aware of biases, think about who is going to be using this information in the future, and do your research on whose stuff is being appraised.”
For the acquisition, Special Collections’ Associate Director Nancy Davis Bray, did an initial appraisal to ensure what we are getting has enduring value. Nancy believes she has an “unorthodox opinion” of appraisal. “I recognize the pedagogy surrounding appraisal and try my best to abide by it, but there are times when you need to go past it, in that, not only are you accepting and soliciting materials, but you also need items that illustrate the person for exhibition.” She believes in an approach of “take more and then use a discerning eye later.” In other words, you do an initial appraisal and later take a closer look at what you’ve acquired.
Georgia State University owns W.J. Usery’s paper materials, oral histories, and speeches, while we have come into possession of his personal belongings: airplane model collections, hard hats in memory of his work in labor unions, framed certificates of his accomplishments, etc. during this appraisal.
On the day of the appraisal, Nancy, Holly, Mikaela, and I walked into a two story condominium filled with Usery memorabilia – empty boxes, packaging tape, and bubble wrap in hand. Doug showed us around and instructed us what was now Georgia College’s to take and, with that, we got to work. What seemed on the outside like another overwhelming game of tetris ended up being an entertaining and enlightening insight into who W.J. Usery, Jr. was. There’s a really nice pay-off to a task like this. Beforehand, we learned about Usery in the professional sense – what he did as Secretary of Labor, and what he will be remembered for doing. Boxing his personal items for the archive feels like part responsibility, part voyeurism. But I say this in a good way. I got to learn who Usery was as a person as well as outside of his career. The more I work in Special Collections, the more I realize the significance in knowing what the archive holds. It’s one thing to be familiar with the contents of the collections, but it’s another to know something of the people they’re about or the people who donated them. People come to this space to learn, to research, and it’s a good feeling knowing you helped them in their pursuit.
Below is a closer look at some of the items Nancy, Holly, Mikaela, and I came across in our appraisal that helped to create a full, three dimensional shape of who W.J. Usery was and will remain in his legacy.
Two different hard hats in relation to the unions W. J. Usery Jr. was affiliated with. The left picture is from the Boilermakers Union and the right features Mikaela wearing the Space Team hat, in association with Usery’s involvement in the Kennedy Space Center.
Below are two framed political cartoons we found among other framed photographs.
What made the work extra special at the end of it all was getting to end the day with this lake view from W. J. “Bill” Usery Jr.’s backyard.
Many tasks presented to us in Special Collections can prove a bit overwhelming in their seemingly bottomless scope, and familiarizing ourselves with the acquisitions room was no different. A room full of boxes piled on top of each other in unfitting ways, like an awkward game of Tetris. It didn’t help that all three of us — Mikaela, Aurora, and I — have height working against us, the boxes towering over our heads and concealing several corners of the room. Still, the three of us got to work.
Going into this assignment, I thought it would be similar to how we processed the James C. Bonner papers. In some ways, yes, the two overlap; the same basic principle of sorting through materials and dusty documents is consistent, but I soon learned assessing inventory is very different. The acquisitions room contains donated materials that have yet to be sorted through, so the boxes’ contents are unknown. The Bonner papers, which have become infamous here for its infinity (we’ll probably still be processing newly found pieces of Bonner ephemera by the time I’m a third year, which Holly has firmly informed me is not allowed), was a series that already had several eyes peer through its contents and several hands sift through its manila folders before Mikaela and I tackled it. Our job there was to reprocess. Inventory, on the other hand, is a first look at what we’ve got. Several boxes marked with sticky notes or permanent marker from their respective donors gave us an idea of what the contents were, but beyond that we were unsure, and that is what inventory intends to uncover. We soon learned that white cotton gloves and surgical masks were necessary. And this is where the adventure begins…