UW faculty, alumni help keep federal archives in Seattle

When the federal government announced it would be closing its national archives at Sand Point last year, a UW community of alumni and faculty sprang into action to halt the plan to move about a million boxes of documents and artifacts to centers in Missouri and California.

Without direct access to these irreplaceable, undigitized records, tribes, museums, scholars and historical preservation societies would be harmed, noted state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, ’89, who filed a lawsuit to stop the process late last year.

UW teaching professor Connie So, ’87, who is also president of the Seattle Chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans – Asian Pacific American Advocates, voiced support of the suit. In the wake of tremendous hostility, most early Chinese Americans left few records of their lives and history, So said. Files relating to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act hold precious information about families, businesses, lifestyles, occupations and land ownership. “They directly connect current generations to the past,” she said. “Cutting access to these important historical records would be devastating.”

The archives hold materials from throughout the Northwest and Alaska, including marriage and census documents and records of Japanese Americans sent to internment camps during World War II. Tribes regularly use the archives for historical research and to protect land-use and water rights. Fawn Sharp, ’95, past president of the Quinault Indian Nation and current president of the National Congress of American Indians, talked about the harm that moving the archives would do to Native communities. “The information that is housed and the history is vast,” she said. “It’s invaluable.”

In February, a federal judge temporarily blocked the sale of the archives building. In April, the Biden administration halted the previous administration’s decision to sell the building.