Monday, March 25, 2013

Sowing Success with Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin

Few people could tell us more about agriculture in Georgia than Tommy Irvin. From his humble beginnings as the son of sharecroppers in White County, Irvin would go on to become Georgia’s Commissioner of Agriculture in 1968. Maintaining this post until his retirement in 2010, he would be the longest serving agriculture commissioner in the U.S. In the opening minutes of his interview for the Reflections on Georgia Politics Oral History Collection, Irvin speaks about his qualifications for the job:

"I know when I was chosen as Commissioner of Agriculture, one of the editorial writers for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wanted to know what I knew about farming.  I said, “Well, you know, I guess I knew everything that you needed to know. I knew how to tie a handspring and I knew “gee” and I knew “haw” and knew what that meant. And I knew how to keep the cow -- keep the horse from walking on the cotton when it was young and step on it. And I knew how to put on a set of Johnson wings.”  He said, “What’s that?”  I said, “Well, I thought that’s where I’d lose you!”

For the uninitiated, “gee” and “haw” are verbal commands for steering a plough horse. To learn what Johnson wings are you’ll have to check out the interview yourself (about 3 minutes in).  These tidbits may seem irrelevant and stuck in a bucolic past, but as Irvin continues about his memories and his life’s work, it becomes clear that such experiences informed the career of a statesman who shaped agriculture policy in Georgia for over forty years. And on more recent matters, Irvin is no slouch. He goes on to discuss a number of contemporary issues that affect agriculture in Georgia and beyond, including food safety, foreign trade, food prices, and the role of illegal immigration. Aside from his work with agriculture, Irvin has also been a huge advocate for education, serving on local and statewide school boards and collaborating with Richard Russell to implement the School Lunch Program. And it all started with Johnson wings.

Post by Steve Armour, Intern, Russell Library

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

RBRL Donor Lorena Weeks Featured in PBS Series

Russell Library donor and trailblazer for equity in the workplace, Lorena Weeks featured in new PBS series, Makers

Lorena Weeks, a native of Wadley, Georgia won a landmark sex discrimination case against Southern Bell in 1969.  Two years earlier, Weeks applied for a promotion at her longtime employer, for the position of a switchman, which promised an increase in pay and a significantly shorter commute to work. Despite her seniority with the company, she was denied the promotion because she was a woman and it was a job reserved for men.

Weeks knew about the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed by President Lyndon Johnson and felt that Southern Bell had violated her rights under the law, which specified that an employer could not discriminate on the basis of sex. Although she initially lost the case, she appealed, and with the help of National Organization of Women (NOW) attorney Sylvia Roberts, brought her case before Judge Griffin Bell in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Weeks finally won her case on appeal. She became a switchman at Southern Bell, a position she held until her retirement in 1983 after more than thirty years of service to the company.

Weeks’ shares her battle for justice along with other key people involved in the case in the new PBS Series on the Women’s Movement, Makers.  Russell staff members are delighted to see Lorena’s trailblazing efforts reach a national audience. 

“Lorena Weeks is truly one of the unknown heroes of the Women’s Movement. She is unassuming in demeanor but possesses the strong sense of right versus wrong and was unwilling to accept blatant discrimination from her longtime employer, a company for which she still expresses a loyalty today. We deeply appreciate her persistent courage to take that step forward for women,” said Russell Library Director, Sheryl Vogt.

View clip from the Makers program:

View full interview from the Russell Library interview with Ms. Weeks:

Mrs. Weeks donated her papers to the Russell Library in 2010 and they are open and available for research.  Learn more about these materials at;query=;brand=default

Thursday, March 14, 2013

First Person Project Day - April 19th

Join the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies for the First Person Project, a new oral history series documenting the experiences of everyday Georgians, on Friday, April 19, 2013 in the Richard B. Russell Building for Special Collections Libraries.

Six sets of partners will be accepted for this First Person Project session, scheduled for Friday, April 19th between 9:00am and 4:00pm. Each audio recording session takes one hour to complete. Photographs will also be taken for each session. The Russell Library will archive the interviews to add to its documentation of life in post 20th century Georgia and will provide participants with a free digital download of the recording and photographs. A $10 donation is suggested for each participant pair.

If you have a friend or family member with a story to tell, become a part of the First Person Project. Reservations are on a first come first serve basis and can be made by calling 706-542-5788 or registering online at

For more information on this event and other upcoming First Person Project days, please email or call (706) 542-5788.

More About the First Person Project

Modeled roughly on StoryCorps, a national initiative partnered with National Public Radio and the Library of Congress, the First Person Project is smaller in scale but similar in concept, providing tools to would-be oral history interviewers and interviewees, including tips on how to create questions and conduct interviews. The project was inspired by the belief that everyone is an eyewitness to history, and that everyone, sometimes with a little encouragement, has a story to tell.

To learn more about the Richard B. Russell Library, visit:

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Spotlight on Tour at 2!

A short video spotlighting the Special Collections Building's weekly Tour at 2, which takes place every Tuesday from 2:00-3:00PM, if featured on the UGA homepage today! Check it out below.