Albert T. Klyberg, a native of New Jersey, came to Rhode Island in 1968 after completing his doctoral courses at the University of Michigan. His purpose was to assume the directorship of the staid Rhode Island Historical Society–a position he held with distinction for three decades.
Upon arrival Al immediately recognized a deficit in the Ocean State’s history. That gap was the neglect of post-Civil War Rhode Island history. This oversight left out the stories of 80% of today’s state population. The majority of our citizens were watching events whose origins they thought did not pertain to them.
To rectify those gaps in the historical record, Klyberg revved up the Historical Society’s efforts to microfilm all of the state’s newspapers down to present time, and he began a television news film archive. The Rhode Island Bicentennial Commission (on which Al was a prominent member) created ethnic heritage subcommittees that opened opportunities for Klyberg’s Rhode Island Historical Society to expand its mission and its activities. To accomplish this expansion of interest, Al lobbied to increase the state appropriation to the Society from $10,000 annually to over $400,000.
Al’s simultaneous leadership in the Society’s production of the thirteen-volume Papers of General Nathanael Greene and the two-volume edition of The Correspondence of Roger Williams proved that he did not neglect the earlier period of Rhode Island history.
While offering courses on museum studies and the history of Rhode Island at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, Providence College, and Bryant University, Al went through several phases in his attempt to define clearly the field of Rhode Island history. His most recent achievement in this regard is the historical content exposition for the Heritage Harbor Museum. Al believes that “inclusiveness” should be the hallmark of such a project. He suggested that Rhode Island history can be best understood within “Six Big Ideas,” which he identified and described with both imagination and great insight. Under the rubric of these six themes, Klyberg devised 240 topics for analysis and further study.
In 1981, Al received a presidential appointment to the National Museum Services Board, and in 1986 received a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Rhode Island College. He was an incorporator of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, the managing developer of the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, the author of several influential books and articles about Rhode Island, and a board member of numerous historical organizations in Providence and the Blackstone Valley.
Although Al’s dream of a state historical museum in the former South Street Station of the Narragansett Electric Company was dashed by the economic impact of the Great Recession, the money generated by that project has resulted in the creation of a Heritage Harbor Foundation with an endowment of nearly $4 million dollars. The interest on this fund will generate nearly $200,000 annually in grants for historical and heritage projects throughout Rhode Island. This foundation may prove to the Al’s greatest legacy to his adopted state.
Throughout the course of these events, the steadfast support and affection of Al’s wife Beverly and children, Kimberly and Kevin, a National Park Ranger, provided an essential homelife balance for a career dedicated to promoting civic engagement and knowledge based on local history.
— Dr. Patrick T. Conley