It’s a challenge Sheffield Hale tackles every day as president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center.
But with subject matter encompassing the Civil War, civil rights, and the region’s mosaic of cultures—mixed with the accompanying passions of so many observers with so many perspectives—how is it even possible to address the subject of history?
“Well,” deadpans Hale AB ’82. “I’m a lawyer.”
Hale did practice law in his native Atlanta for more than 25 years before moving to the center in 2012, but he hasn’t looked back.
“If you want to be persuasive, you have to approach people where they are,” Hale says, turning serious. “You have to give them the ability to be surprised or to learn something that might shift their viewpoint a little bit. And this crosses all ideologies. No one has a monopoly on truth or knowledge. We all can use a little bit more perspective.”
And that is the philosophy Hale uses to guide the center, which, under his leadership, has grown into one the country’s finest museums of public history. Case in point, in 2022, Gov. Brian Kemp BSA ’87 presented Hale with the Governor’s Award for Arts and Humanities. It’s the state’s highest award for this work, and an honor Hale considers one of the most meaningful of his career.
Hale learned his love of history, in part, from his father Bradley. The elder Hale served as chair of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, chair of Atlanta History Center, and as founding chair of the advisory board of the Georgia Historical Society among his many service roles.
For the younger Hale, majoring in history at UGA was an easy choice, not just for the subject matter but for the learning process required of students.
“The liberal arts train your mind to think,” Hale says. “It’s a way to learn about the world and approach it in different ways. History is a great way to do that.”
Learning how to think at UGA prepared Hale for his next step: law school. After earning his law degree at the University of Virginia, he returned home to practice and quickly became dedicated to public service.
Hale has served on more than a dozen boards and commissions: He is an emeritus trustee of the UGA Foundation, and from 2004 to 2005, he chaired the Atlanta History Center board. Six years later, he had exited the board but was chairing the center’s capital campaign when he was invited to apply for the open CEO role. He did, and Hale now calls it the best decision he’s ever made—after attending the University of Georgia, that is.
Hale’s community mindset extends to UGA. The dean’s suite of the Jere W. Morehead Honors College is named for him; he and his sister, Ellen, established a fund with the UGA Press to honor their father; and this summer the Atlanta History Center will welcome the inaugural Sheffield Hale Fellow.
The fellowship, which provides an opportunity for a history major to study at an institution dedicated to public history, is another partnership between Hale and his sister. This time in collaboration with the Department of History.
“The UGA Press was a great way to honor my father; he had personally supported several books,” Hale says. The Bradley Hale Fund for Southern Studies is the full name of the endowment, and it has supported UGA Press publications since 2015.
“I’ve been able to touch on all the areas of the university that are important to me—the Department of History and Honors College, as well,” he says. “I’ve just had a great experience with the University of Georgia.”