The American Heritage Project

In September 1951, under the directorship of Sarah Maret, the Athens Regional Library was selected to participate in the American Library Association’s American Heritage Project, sponsored by a $150,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. The project was designed “for the promotion and demonstration of adult community discussion programs on the American heritage and its contemporary application.” Athens Regional Library was one of just six libraries nation-wide selected for the opportunity. The other libraries were the New York Public Library, Denver Public Library, Los Angeles County Library, Vermont Free Public Library Commission, and Lacrosse Public Library in Wisconsin. At the time, the Athens Regional Library was located in the Stern House at 193 East Hancock Ave.

Athens Regional Library appointed Louis T. Griffith, an assistant professor in the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady School of Journalism, as director of the project, and Mrs. J.J. Wilkins as Junior Chairman of the program committee. The Library Board discussed numerous options for the project that they felt represented American heritage: the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays, and Huckleberry Finn. Sarah Maret traveled to New York City for the “National Institute for Administrators of the American Library Association American Heritage Program” conference, October 8-12, 1951.

Since the project included 18 films (16 mm) on deposit from the American Library Associations, films were incorporated into the program. Athens Regional Library kicked off the program with a screening of the following films on Tuesday, December 4, 1951 at 7:30 PM: Democracy; Declaration of Independence; Our Living Declaration; Thomas Jefferson; Bill of Rights; and Servant of the People. New books totaling over $1,000 were purchased for the library in honor of the program. On Tuesday, December 8, 1951 at 8:00 PM, a preview of the project was debuted at the Athens Civic Hall. The library provided a training program on U.S.A. heritage for leaders in the Athens community.

The program officially began in 1952 and included both films and readings. Here was the schedule for the Athens-Clarke County Library:

January 22 – Declaration of Independence

February 5 – Bill of Rights

February 19 – Emerson’s Essays on Self-Reliance and Politics

March 4 – Several of Lincoln’s Speeches

March 18 – Due Process of Law Denied

April 1 – Roosevelt’s 1st Inaugural Address, 2nd Inaugural Address, and Four Freedoms

April 15 – Huckleberry Finn; The River (film)

April 29 – University Declaration of Human Rights; Of Human Rights (film)

A series of eight discussions on heritage were hosted at intervals of two weeks. There were four discussion groups available to the public. The first discussion took place on Tuesday, January 22, 1952 at 8:00 PM at the Athens Civic Hall Auditorium. A report on program activities was sent to the American Library Association American Heritage Program office on March 29, 1952. The program was presented at various events throughout the year, including the Athens Agricultural Fair; the Georgia Federation of Women’s Clubs in Cochran, Georgia on March 20,1952; and the 31st annual meeting of the South Carolina Library Association on April 18-19, 1952.

The series on American heritage expanded to twenty-one other libraries in the state of Georgia, including those located in Albany, Atlanta, Augusta, Decatur, Gainesville, Macon, Rome, and Savannah. The discussion groups continued in Athens. Sarah Maret attended the 2nd American Library Association American Heritage Project in Chicago on September 2-5, 1952. The program continued in 1953 with eight discussion sessions on the following topics: Electoral College; Propaganda Analysis; Essentials of Americanism; Civil Liberties Under Attack (five sessions).


All items are part of the American Heritage Project scrapbook held in the History of the Athens-Clarke County Library collection at the Athens-Clarke County Library Heritage Room and are organized in the order in which they appear in the scrapbook. The scrapbook will be scanned in its entirety and made accessible online in the future.

American Library Association. (10 September 1951). Letter, to Sarah Maret, Athens Regional Library.

Sarah Maret. (19 September 1951). Letter, to Athens Regional Library Board.

“Athens Library One of 6 in U.S. Recognized by Ford Foundation.” Wednesday, September 26, 1951. Clipping from Athens-Banner Herald.

“Athens Library Selected for High Honor.” Wednesday, September 26, 1951. Clipping from Atlanta Constitution.

“Athens Library Named in Ford Foundation Test.” Wednesday, September 26, 1951. Clipping from Atlanta Journal.

Sarah Maret. (1 November 1951). Letter, to Athens Regional Library Board.

American Library Association. Manuscript, Agenda Training Program: National Institute for Administrators of American Library Association American Heritage Program. New York City – October 8-12, 1951.

Louis T. Griffith. (1 December 1951). Letter, to American Heritage Project participants.

Athens-Clarke County Library. Manuscript, What is the American Heritage of the Heritage of the U.S.A. in Times of Crisis?

“American Heritage Program Begins at Public Library.” October 7, 1951. Clipping from Athens-Banner Herald.

American Library Association. Manuscript, The American Heritage in Films.

Athens Regional Library. Manuscript, Our American Heritage: What it Means to Us Today. A Program of Discussions Sponsored by Athens Regional Library.

“Public Invited to Attend First Library Discussion.” Sunday, January 20, 1952. Clipping from Athens-Banner Herald.

“Heritage Groups Meet This Week.” Sunday, April 13, 1952. Clipping from Athens-Banner Herald.

Athens Regional Library. Manuscript, March 19, 1952. Report of Athens Regional Library – which serves Clarke, Oconee, and Olgethorpe Counties in Northeast Georgia – as Requested by the American Library Association American Heritage Office.

American Library Association. Manuscript, American Heritage Program Evaluation Conference. Conrad Hilton Hotel. May 27-29, 1952.

“Heritage Series Begun in Athens Expands to Twenty-Two Libraries.” Sunday, September 14, 1952. Clipping from Athens-Banner Herald.

“Regional Library to Continue Discussion Groups.” Thursday, September 11, 1952. Clipping from Athens-Banner Herald.

Parker, Helen. (September 1952) “Sarah Maret and Our American Heritage.” The Pilot Log.

American Library Association. Manuscript, American Library Association American Heritage Program Second National Conference for Administrators. Palmer House, Chicago. September 2-5, 1952.

Athens Regional Library. Manuscript, American Heritage Project. Athens Regional Library. Athens, GA. Program: 1952-1953.

“Plans Underway for American Heritage Discussions Next Year.” Sunday, April 19, 1953. Clipping from Athens-Banner Herald.