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First Time Access to Kentucky's Historian Laureate for Life
Kentucky Ag Connection - 09/22/2022

Never released, digitized audio interviews with well-known Kentucky Historian Laureate Dr. Thomas D. Clark (1903-2005) are now available online to the public. Clark was the driving force behind the creation of what is now the Kentucky State Archives.

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

As told in the interviews, the story of the Kentucky State Archives could be said to begin with a late night phone call in the 1930s during the administration of Governor A.B. "Happy" Chandler. Clark described receiving a phone call informing him that public records were being loaded onto trucks at the State Capitol building, slated to be sold for scrap paper that very day. He quickly obtained permission from Governor Chandler to stop the destruction of the records, which included some of the earliest public records of Kentucky.

Clark drove to Frankfort before dawn to prevent the destruction of these invaluable public records, which were already loaded for transport to the scrap paper facility. These records, four truckloads in all, included governors' journals and ledgers, 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 records is a society without navigational 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, systematic archive of public records. The unrehearsed interviews, 21/2 hours in length, were released by the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA) in the Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet. The interviews were recorded on audiocassettes in Clark's home in 1997. Interviewers were then-President of the Board of the Friends of Kentucky Public Archives Inc. Dr. Bill Ellis, then-State Archivist Richard Belding and Barbara Teague of KDLA's Archival Services Branch.

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

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