Documenting COVID-19

Like our counterparts across the nation and the world, the government of the State of Alabama is facing a historic challenge as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alabama Department of Archives and History’s foremost concern at this time is the health and safety of all Alabamians; as such, the ADAH building will be closed to the public with most staff working remotely. Although onsite programming has been suspended, ADAH staff continue to serve the public from a distance, including through the recent introduction of Alabama History@Home (alabamahistoryhome.org).

Over the past few weeks, we have been amazed and inspired by the many state and local government entities meeting this challenge with new resources and creative initiatives intended to support staff members and the public at large. As the state’s government records repository and home to the state history museum, the ADAH wants to ensure that historic records documenting the pandemic and the government’s response are preserved for the future. 

State and local officials can take important steps to preserve the historical record by saving documentation related to the pandemic as it is created. Types of records that agencies should set aside include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Informational materials related to COVID-19 (paper or electronic) such as graphics, posters, guidance, newsletters, etc.
  • Press releases
  • COVID-19 committee/task force meeting minutes
  • Photographs
  • Video recordings of announcements, press conferences, etc. 
  • Administrative files of agency leaders (such as directors and commissioners) 
  • Planning and policy documentation, especially documentation of modifications to services, policies, or future plans
  • Legal opinions and guidance 
  • Important communications and correspondence with staff or external stakeholders, including email messages
  • Any other information that may be historically significant 

At this busy time, we ask that state and local officials simply set aside and save these records. The Records Management Section will work with state and local government agencies at a later time on the long-term preservation of archival records. Staff are available by email to answer questions or help in any way we can. For state and local agencies working to adapt to the new normal and to anyone doing their part to “flatten the curve,” thank you for your dedication. 

New in the ADAH Collections: Alabama Department of Commerce

In August 2018, Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) Records Management and Collections staff worked together to process and permanently transfer several boxes of records from the Alabama Department of Commerce to the ADAH archival holdings.

Downtown Birmingham, Alabama digitized from Commerce’s transmittal. Pictured center is the Regions Center (originally named the “First National-Southern Natural Building” in 1972). The Regions Center is the current home of the Birmingham Business Alliance, the Birmingham region’s economic development organization and a member of the Export Alabama Alliance.

The Department of Commerce has a long history dating back to 1968, a period of economic decline for Alabama’s economy. Governor Albert P. Brewer created the Alabama Program Development Office to recruit new industry to the state. In 1969, this agency merged with the State Planning and Industrial Board, which had existed since 1935, to become the Alabama Development Office (ADO). The State Planning and Industrial Development Board split from ADO in 1979 and reformed as the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). In 2012, Alabama Act 2012-167 changed ADO’s name to the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Today, the Alabama Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) promotes economic development of Alabama’s business and industrial resources by:

  • Advocating for minority-owned, woman-owned, veteran-owned, and rural small businesses in Alabama
  • Recruiting new businesses and foreign direct investment (FDI) to the state
  • Promoting the state’s exports and helping Alabama businesses establish international trade relationships
  • Maintaining partnerships with economic development coalitions in Europe and Asia

While working with Commerce staff on a revision to their Records Disposition Authority (RDA) approved by the State Records Commission in October 2018, ADAH staff collaborated with Commerce to clean up records stored in the agency’s basement. They determined which records had met their minimum required retention per the RDA and could therefore be destroyed and which records were permanent and could be transferred to the Archives.

Commerce transferred records identified as permanent or potentially permanent to the Archives on a temporary basis for further processing. These records included publications and publicity files such as newsletters, annual reports, press releases, posters, and prints; trade mission files, including itineraries, reports, and mission booklets describing the efforts of small businesses to form trade partnerships abroad; economic development files documenting the establishment of industries in the state, such as the Mercedes Benz manufacturing plant in Tuscaloosa County; and various administrative files, including one box of photographs and slides.

Color print entitled “Minerals Map of Alabama” (Map 193) is the base map modified in 1973 by Oscar E. Gilbert from the Geological Survey of Alabama. Text written by Everett Smith, 1983.

At the end of the processing project, ADAH staff formally transmitted sixteen boxes of records and artifacts.

Researchers interested in the Department of Commerce’s archival collections can access these materials by visiting the ADAH Research Room.

Introducing the FY 2019 Annual Report of the ADAH Records Management Section

The Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) Records Management Section recently completed its first published Annual Report of activities. The Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Report gives readers a look into Archival Appraisal/Records Management work and provides key updates from October 2018 to September 2019.

The 19-page report includes highlights from the State and Local Government Records Commission meetings, permanent records transmittal, and records management activities for state and local governments.

State agencies transferred 527 cubic feet of permanent records in FY2019 to the ADAH. Some examples of those transmittals include 18 cubic feet of audio recordings, video, and images of field records from the State Council on the Arts; 7 cubic feet of negatives and photographs from Governor Fob James’ administration, and Department of Mental Health patient admission records from Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa dating from 1861 to 1952.

Each year, Records Management Section staff assist agencies by providing free, on-site records-management training. For FY 2019, staff conducted 76 total outreach sessions with 548 attendees and answered 1,386 total inquiries from state and local governments.

Destroying eligible obsolete temporary records is an important component of records management, so that limited resources can be focused on historic permanent and active records. As such, staff reviewed destruction notices covering over 27,000 cubic feet of local government records, while state agencies reported over 28,000 cubic feet of obsolete records destruction for FY 2019.

The report also spotlights the Alabama State Electronic Records Project (ASERP), which concluded in December 2019, and our ongoing work on the long-term preservation of born-digital records, including making several collections available online including Governor Bob Riley Office Files; Governor Bob Riley Photographs; House and Senate Journals; and state agency publications such as annual reports and newsletters.

Records Management Section staff work with state and local agencies to organize, manage, and preserve their records for long-term access. This work is vital to the preservation of government records for the benefit of current and future generations of Alabamians. If you have any questions or are interested in training, please reach out to the Records Management staff.

New in the ADAH Collections: Photograph Negatives of Governor Fob James’ Administration

Photographer Kevin Glackmeyer worked with the Alabama Office of the Governor during the administrations of Governors Jim Folsom, Fob James, and Bob Riley. In July 2019, the Alabama Department of Archives and History received a collection of his photographic negatives documenting Governor Fob James’ second term (1995 – 1999). The negatives capture his inauguration, speeches, appearances, and attended events. They also capture Alabama politicians, including former Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, and former Governors Jim Folsom, Don Siegelman, and George Wallace, as well as federal officials such as U.S. Representative John Lewis, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, and President George Bush. Finally, the negatives capture such significant individuals as photographer Spider Martin and Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks and significant moments of the era, such as the first pilgrimage of a congressional delegation to Selma in 1998.

Forrest Hood “Fob” James, Jr. was born in the east Alabama mill town of Lanett on September 15, 1934. James’ father operated a food concession business in the Lanett Cotton Mills, which employed the majority of Lanett’s residents. James attended public schools in Lanett and the neighboring town of West Point, Georgia, until transferring as a sophomore to Baylor School, a private preparatory military academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy upon his graduation in 1955 but instead chose to accept a football scholarship to the Auburn Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University). James played left halfback for Auburn’s football team and gained All-American status by his senior year in 1955. That same year, he married Bobbie May Mooney of Decatur, Alabama.

After graduating from Auburn in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, James headed north to Montreal, Canada, where he played professional football with the Alouettes for one season. He then served two years as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Fob and Bobbie James had four sons; their second-born, Greg, had cystic fibrosis. To pay for Greg’s medical bills, James returned to Alabama to work as an engineer with a Montgomery tractor company and then as a construction superintendent at a Mobile road-paving company.

James made a bold career move in 1961 by founding Diversified Products, Inc. in Opelika, not far from his hometown. He imagined replacing cast-iron barbells, which would rust and ruin floors, with concrete coated in “Orbatron” plastic. The company grew tremendously over the next fifteen years and began manufacturing farm, industry, and trucking equipment in addition to fitness equipment. By the time the company merged with the Liggett Group in 1977, its sales amounted to about one billion dollars annually. During this period of success, however, James also experienced loss; his son, Greg, passed away from cystic fibrosis at age eight in 1967.

In the 1970s, James served as president of the Alabama Citizens for Transportation Committee and briefly as a member of the State Republican Executive Committee. At the time, Democrats dominated Alabama politics; Alabama had not elected a Republican governor in nearly a century. James switched from the Republican to the Democratic party before running for governor in 1978. He defeated Attorney General Bill Baxley in the primary election and Cullman County Probate Judge Guy Hunt in the general election. 

In keeping with his campaign theme – a “New Beginning” for Alabamians – James’ filled a vacancy in the Alabama Supreme Court by appointing Oscar W. Adams, who then became the first African American elected to statewide constitutional office in Alabama. James’ appointed director of the Department of Pensions and Security, Gary Cooper, was the first African American to head a major state agency in Alabama in over a century. During his first term, James fought for improvements to the state’s K-12 education, mental health system, prisons, Medicaid, and highways. In 1981, he established the Gregory Fleming James Cystic Fibrosis Research Center at UAB in honor of his son.

Unfortunately, James faced economic problems resulting from the recession of the late 1970s. He consolidated state agencies and instituted a hiring freeze to reduce state spending by ten percent. Some initiatives of his first administration were not successful. Both his proposal to draft a new state constitution and his proposal to grant home rule to counties and cities were rejected by the legislature. He persuaded the legislature to enact twenty anti-crime bills in 1982, but because he failed to deliver them to the Secretary of State within the required ten-day period, the bills never became law. In the same year, James enacted a bill that encouraged voluntary prayer in public schools. The United States Supreme Court declared this bill unconstitutional in the 1985 case Wallace v. Jaffree. James chose not to run again for governor in 1982, but ran in 1986 and 1990, only to be defeated in both primaries.

After his first term as governor, semi-retired Fob James led a varied business career. He was part owner of Orange Beach Marina, the CEO of Coastal Erosion Control, Inc., and the CEO of Escambia County Environmental Corporation.

Reflecting a transition from Democratic to Republican dominance in Alabama politics, James switched political parties for the second time to run for governor as a Republican in 1994. His second term mirrored his first: he appointed Aubrey Miller, an African American woman, as director of the Tourism Department and continued to focus on K-12 education reform. In 1995, the James Educational Foundation Act required some local schools to raise property taxes to meet a minimum amount and allowed the state superintendent of education to assume control of schools which did not meet standardized test standards. Some Alabamians were frustrated with James’ lack of support for colleges and universities, his lack of focus on economic development, and his battles with the federal government on issues surrounding the separation of church and state. He was defeated in his run for a third term by Democrat Don Siegelman in 1998.

Today, Fob James resides in Alabama with his wife Bobbie. He has ten grandchildren.

To view photograph negatives and other records from Governor James’ second term, visit the ADAH Research Room

Sources:

“Alabama Governors: Forrest Hood (Fob) James, Jr.” Alabama Department of Archives and History. https://archives.alabama.gov/govs_list/g_james.html.

“Forrest Hood ‘Fob’ James, Jr.” Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. https://www.ashof.org/inductees/fob-james/.

Jenkins, Ray. “The New Governor of Alabama.” The New York Times, 16 January 1979. https://www.nytimes.com/1979/01/16/archives/the-new-governor-of-alabama-forrest-hood-james-jr-man-in-the-news-a.html.

Stewart, William H. “Forrest ‘Fob’ James Jr. (1979-83, 1995-99).” Encyclopedia of Alabama. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1469.