Longtime Arlington resident Birdie Alston recently celebrated his 100th birthday.
Mr. Alston’s life has been marked by a commitment to community service, civil rights, and a love of photography and gardening.
Born in June 1919, Mr. Alston grew up in South Carolina. He came to Arlington as a young man in 1944, first settling in South Arlington and then moving to the Hall’s Hill/High View Park neighborhood with his wife, Mable Shirley Alston in 1947. He worked first as a short order cook and then at Olmstead Oldsmobile for forty years.
After the end of World War II, Mr. Alston became involved with civic and civil rights movements, as a member of the Langston Civic Association (and President of the organization in the 1960’s) and the NAACP of Arlington and Fairfax Counties. He was instrumental in growing the memberships of both groups and working alongside other well-known Arlingtonians such as Dorothy Hamm and Barbara Marx. In addition to these activities, Mr. Alston was on the Board of Directors at the Veteran’s YMCA and helped to found the North Arlington Child Care Centers, Inc.
Mr. Alston was also involved with the Neighborhood Conservation Plan, established in 1964 as a way for communities within Arlington to meet as neighbors and discuss ideas about improving their own neighborhoods. As an avid gardener, Mr. Alston was instrumental to the sustained improvement of the Hall’s Hill/High View Park neighborhood. Mr. Alston further supported the mission of the Neighborhood Conservation Plan by petitioning and working with the Arlington County Board for street improvements throughout High View Park. He has also been a longtime member of Calloway United Methodist Church.
As an enthusiastic photographer, he took pictures of family, friends, and everyday life in Arlington throughout the 1950’s, ‘60’s, and beyond, and was involved with local black heritage events such as Nauck Pride Day and Feel the Heritage Festival.
In an oral history conducted in 1991 with Mr. Alston, he remarked: “…I was just an average citizen in the community. I didn't wear no fancy clothes…I was a working man, I went to work.”
We think that Mr. Birdie Alston’s life and commitment to community involvement have been anything but average or ordinary and wish him a happy 100th birthday.
The Personal Papers of Birdie and Mable Alston (RG 338) were donated to the Center for Local History in October 2017. This collection includes photographs, physical objects, and materials from Mr. Alston’s involvement with various civil rights and community activities throughout the mid to late 20th century.
For more information, and to see items from the collection, visit the Center for Local History on the first floor at Central Library.