Kentucky Digital Archive providing public access to interviews with historian for life, Dr. Thomas D. Clark

Digitized, never-before-published audio interviews with renowned Kentucky award-winning historian Dr. Thomas D. Clark (1903-2005) are now available online for the public. Clark was the driving force behind the creation of what is now the Kentucky State Archives.

Clark was the Kentucky History Laureate from 1990 until his death in 2005 at age 101. Clark’s advocacy spanned more than six decades, beginning in 1931 when he became a faculty member at the University of Kentucky and later appointed statewide director of the Works Progress Administration ( WPA) Historical Records Survey. The prolific author and editor taught at the University of Kentucky from 1931 until 1965, when he retired as chair of the history department.

Photograph of Dr. Thomas D. Clark at the State Archives Center of the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives’ Clark-Cooper Building in Frankfort. (Photo by KDLA)

As the interviews tell, the history of the Kentucky State Archives could be said to begin with a late night phone call in the 1930s during the administration of Governor AB “Happy” Chandler. Clark described receiving a phone call informing him that public documents were being loaded onto trucks at the state capitol building, which were to be sold for scrap paper the same day. He soon obtained permission from Governor Chandler to stop the destruction of the records, which included some of Kentucky’s earliest public records.

Clark traveled to Frankfurt before dawn to prevent the destruction of this priceless public archive, which was already loaded for transport to the scrap paper mill. These files, four trucks in all, included governors’ diaries and records, reports of the secretary of state and state auditor, tax records, and other irreplaceable public records that dated back to the formation of the state. . Clark knew how important they were, saying, “A society without archives is a society without navigation equipment.”

With eloquence and wit, Clark also spoke of his long-term collaboration with governors, historians, university presidents, and local and state government officials to establish an organized and systematic record of public records. The non-rehearsed interviews, lasting 2.5 hours, were broadcast by the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives (KDLA) in the Kentucky Cabinet of Education and Labor. The interviews were recorded on audio cassettes at Clark’s home in 1997. The interviewers were then Chairman of the Board of Friends of the Kentucky Public Archives Inc., Dr. Bill Ellis, then State Archivist Richard Belding and Barbara Teague of KDLA’s archive services branch.

Funding for the transcription of these historic interviews in 2020 was provided by Friends of Kentucky Public Archives Inc. and coordinated by Lisa Thompson, Special Formats Archivist at KDLA. Visit Interview with Thomas D. Clark, 1997, Ky. Department of Libraries and Archives – to listen to the interviews.

Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives

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