Shortly after coming to the Birmingham Public Library as our first Archivist in 1975, Marvin Whiting was walking down the street one day when he spotted a trash can in an alley with a large roll of maps or architectural drawings sticking out. As he was bent over with his head in the trash can, digging for more documents, he felt a tap on his shoulder. When he stood up a curious Birmingham Police Officer asked what he was doing.
“Oh, it’s alright,” Marvin said. “I’m the archivist.”
“You’re the what?” the officer replied.
By the time Marvin retired in 1996, there were few people in Birmingham who did not know what an archivist was and that Marvin Whiting was “the archivist.”
Born in Fort Valley Georgia in 1934, Marvin Whiting became the third generation of his family to attend Emory University. He earned a B.A. in literature, a B.D. in divinity, and an M.A. in librarianship from Emory as well as a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University. In addition to his work at BPL, Marvin also held positions as adjunct professor of history at Birmingham-Southern College and at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and as adjunct professor of library and information studies at the University of Alabama. He served as a member of the Jefferson County Historical Commission, a founding board member for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, helped found the Birmingham History Center and was one of the founders of the Society of Alabama Archivists. He authored several books, including One Great City: The Campaign for Consolidated Government, Birmingham, Alabama and An Enduring Ministry: A Biography of Henry Morris Edmonds.
Last year the Society of Alabama Archivists created the Marvin Yeomans Whiting Award. To be given each year, the award recognizes a person, institution, or organization that has made a significant contribution to the preservation and dissemination of local history in Alabama. The award is cosponsored by the Birmingham Public Library.
The first Whiting Award will be presented September 28, 2012, as part of the Society of Alabama Archivists annual meeting at the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) in Montgomery. The recipient will be Ed Bridges, retiring director of ADAH.