The layoffs, due to a $700,000 budget cut, will leave just three workers at the massive facility in Morrow, Ga., where the state stores all of its historic records and the truckloads of current documents created daily by the government of the eighth-largest state in the country. Three workers are too few to keep the archives building open to the public on a drop-in basis, meaning that members of the public will only be able to visit if they have an appointment.
"We have support from all over the world," said protester Brenda Banks, a former employee of the archives who recalls when it had 120 workers years ago. "Most people don't even know the archives exist. ... But that's how you get records for what's going on in state government. That's how you keep the government accountable."
As many as 130 people visited the archives each day, according to Sandra Boling, another former employee who was in charge of public access. She lost her job earlier due to a previous budget cut.
Most of the visitors are researching their family tree, she said, but some are writing books on local history.
"It's all about history. But what's history? It's all about what is around us all the time," Boling said.
Bob Barr, a former Georgia congressman and Libertarian presidential nominee, addressed the protesters and urged them on.
"These records belong to us. We should be able to see them when we want to," he said, adding that state law requires they be available to the public.
One way to avoid the layoffs, according to University of Georgia Professor Jim Cobb, would be to cut in half the operating budget for the Go Fish Georgia exhibit near Perry that attracts a fraction of the visitors that the archives does. Or the state could add $1 to the tax on a pack of cigarettes where 90 percent of the proceeds would be available for other parts of state government.
The objection to the cigarette tax, he said, comes from convenience-store owners on the state line that fear they would lose customers to neighboring stores where the tax is less.
"Georgia ought to issue license plates that read 'Georgia: Historically ignorant, but a great place to smoke,'" he said.
Secretary of State Brian Kemp who oversees the archives has said he chose the layoffs rather than taking further cuts in the elections division that faces federal requirements or the corporations-registration and professional-licensing divisions that generate fee income for the state and help create jobs.
Gov. Nathan Deal said last month when he signed a proclamation naming October Archives Month that he would see that the records remain available to the public.