MARBL stands for the Manuscript, Archives & Rare Book Library located primarily on the 10th floor of the Robert W. Woodruff University Library at Emory University. It holds more than 400,000 treasured books, 13,000 cherished collections and an endless list of exceptional artifacts from Georgia and Atlanta history. We recently paid a visit to Randy Gue, Curator of Modern Political & Historical Collections at MARBL, and discovered some gems from this incredible Atlanta history resource.
The library building is named after Robert Winship Woodruff who famously gave $105 million to Emory in 1979 along with his brother George Waldo Woodruff. At the time, it was the largest single donation to any university in American history. Eventually the Coca-Cola magnates would donate a total of $230 million to the university. The library offers the ten-story tower we see pictured here, along with a mix of modern annexes and other library buildings. In total the nine Emory Libraries hold more than 3.4 million volumes.
Of the nine, the Manuscript, Archives & Rare Book Library offers areas of interest any true Atlanta history buff will love. The collections featured by MARBL touch upon African American history and culture, including sports, art and film. They have a broad selection of literature and poetry collections with names such as Salman Rushdie, Alice Walker, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Raymond Danowski.
Atlanta politics and civil rights are both strong areas of MARBL. Modern politicians, individuals and organizations have routinely donated their papers to the Woodruff Library. You can find everything from Civil War studies and papers by Bell Irvin Wiley (an American historian that taught at Emory) to the unedited Newsweek South Bureau files from the 1960’s and 1970’s, which contain thousands of pages of well-written and well-researched material (often submitted to the main Newsweek office with only bits and pieces used and published, the rest left on the editing floor).
During my visit Randy Gue was kind enough to pull a few select pieces to give a sense of what MARBL offers. It was a fun experience. We also discussed an interesting digital project he’s undertaking all fans of Atlanta history will love. But first let’s take a look at what Randy pulled out of the archives.
The below image shows a flyer taken from the William B. Hartsfield papers now being held at the Manuscript, Archives & Rare Book Library. It is quite remarkable. It promotes a march on Atlanta City Hall on March 4th, 1946 by members of the African American community demanding a black police force. This march did occur and was reported by the Atlanta Daily World on March 5th, 1946. It was one of a series in the middle and late 1940’s that demanded this end; along with high-level political negotiations over votes it was protests that led to the hiring of Atlanta’s first African American police officers in 1948. Read the story of Atlanta’s first African American police officers here.
The next image relates to the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917. For those not familiar with the fire, it started on May 21st, 1917 in the Old Fourth Ward and by the late evening had scorched much of Atlanta, burning an estimated 2,000 structures before it was extinguished north of Ponce De Leon. (Ivy Hall was one of the few structures that survived the blaze and the destruction of homes between North and Ponce as a firewall; read about Ivy Hall here.) In terms of devastation, only Atlanta developers and General Sherman have done more damage to these neighborhoods.
Now held in a collection of documents donated by the Atlanta Department of Public Works, this map shows tentative sketch number three for the rearrangement of the burnt district after the Great Fire of 1917. It was drafted on June 26th, 1917 by C.J. Vaughan, chairman of the burnt district committee. It was this design that served as the blueprint for the rebuilding of the burned areas. The aftermath of the fire offered both small and dramatic changes. Wood shingles, viewed as a contributing factor to the aggressive spread of the fire, were banned by the city. The areas clear by the fire allowed for the integration of housing designed to pack more people into a fast-growing city. Large homes were replaced by apartment buildings. But also many areas were left open and turned into green spaces or city parks.
In addition to established Atlanta history subjects, the MARBL collections are always growing, with individuals such as Randy Gue constantly adding documents and papers from individuals and organizations from across Georgia.
Take the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s as an example. Currently MARBL is growing their collection on this subject, concentrating on the grassroots response to the outbreak in Atlanta. The recent donation by Jesse Peel, an Atlanta-area psychiatrist and AIDS activist, underscores MARBL’s dedication to archiving this important time in American history.
Jesse Peel’s collection offers tremendous insight into the Atlanta gay community during the AIDS crisis, since his practice which started in the city in 1976 served primarily gay men. It features Peel’s appointment books, journals, funeral programs, files and correspondence along with documents related to several AIDS activist groups, including AID Atlanta and Positive Impact.
“Atlanta had a unique, grassroots response to the AIDS crisis,” said Gue in a press release about the Peel collection. “People responded in the only way they knew how. Jesse said ‘I know how to throw parties,’ so he threw parties to raise money for these organizations.”
MARBL and the Emory Libraries in general are dedicated to everything digital and embracing emerging technologies; of the millions of volumes held by Emory so far 56,000 have been digitized and made public.
But Randy Gue in particular has an interesting digital project. For nearly three years Gue, along with Geospatial Data Librarian Michael Page and Digital Scholarship Coordinator Stewart Varner, have been remapping segregated Atlanta from the 1930’s.
“Think Google Maps but 1930,” said Gue. “It’s going to be a big digital research tool people can actually use.” Leveraging MARBL’s resources, Gue, Page and Varner are relying on a massive amount of data to achieve their goal: a complete and accurate picture of 1930 Atlanta, from large commercial structures down to street manhole covers. The end product will be open source and interactive, meaning anyone can contribute data about a particular building, street or person.
Above you see a map of Atlanta. It is the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey of Atlanta done by the Atlanta Mapping Division in 1929. Currently MARBL has dozens of these surveys of the city and the surrounding areas. Gue is using the building footprints, railroad lines, elevation benchmarks and even the manhole covers in these maps to build his digital Atlanta. Researchers will be able to move around the map, clicking on buildings that will show data on wealth, race and other information. But why manhole covers?
“It’s to see the distribution of wealth and incomes,” said Gue “For example; Summer Hill in the 1930’s still had outhouses.” The task Gue and the Emory team have taken on is daunting; there are nearly 70,000 building footprints to document. But the end product will be like a historical positioning system for the public and Atlanta historians.
The above document shows the type of data the public will be able to input into MARBL’s digital 1930 Atlanta when the project is complete. Gue pulled it from their collections as an illustration. It originated from the Hanley Company Undertakers at 21 Bell Street N.E. It is the death certificate for Ella Brown, an African American Atlanta resident who was 50 years old when she was struck by an automobile on January 10th, 1930. These death certificates provide a glimpse of the Atlanta African American community, with addresses and other information. Historians can use it to gain insights into everything from the inequalities of Jim Crow to the spread of diseases such as typhoid.
When complete Emory’s digital 1930 Atlanta will be a fun and exceptional resource. But in the meantime an afternoon visit to MARBL is also quite rewarding. Gue pulled other documents and objects for History Atlanta, including a book of pictures of Atlanta historic buildings from 1903 and an interesting model of the old Equitable Building, Atlanta’s first skyscraper (read about the Equitable Building of 1892 here). We have included images of these objects and documents below. The Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library at Emory University is located on the 10th floor of the Woodruff Library; pay them visit for an enjoyable dip into Atlanta history. Or if you’re seeking a digital history release, visit the MARBL website here.