Black History Month: Floyd Alston's life is legacy of service to country, Philadelphia community

Signs of Alston's work are all over, especially in North Philly where he redeveloped blocks and helped build affordable housing.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As they spend time looking over family photos, sister and brother Sue Hodges and Craig Alston can't help but smile.

"Remember this day?" Hodges asks as she holds one photo. "Oh yeah!" Alston exclaims.

The family has more photos than they could likely count. Many of them feature the accomplishments of their father, Floyd Alston. To remember their father, they don't have to look at photos, they can look at Philadelphia.

"(His work was) designed to redevelop Philadelphia," said Hodges.

Signs of Floyd Alston's work are all over the city, especially in North Central Philadelphia where he redeveloped blocks, helped build affordable housing and brought businesses into struggling parts of the neighborhood.

"Getting banking specifically into North Philadelphia," Craig Alston said of one of his father's achievements.

Born and raised in North Philadelphia, the area never left Alston's heart, even when he left to serve his country.

"He was one of the first Black Marines," Craig Alston said.

Floyd Alston was among the nearly 20,000 African American men who joined the Marine Corps from 1942 to 1949. They did their basic training at Montford Point Camp in North Carolina. Alston was among the Black troops who served under a segregated force in World War II. He also served during the Korean War.

Six decades later, his service as a Montford Point Marine would earn him the congressional gold medal as he and other African American Marines with the same distinction were honored in Washington DC in 2012. But Alston felt he couldn't serve the home front without also serving home.

"I think his service really spawned from his time in the Marines," said Hodges.

When he was done with his military career, Alston had a successful career in banking.

"He was the first affirmative action officer for First Pennsylvania Bank," said Craig Alston.

After he retired from banking, Alston put all his effort into rebuilding North Philadelphia

"His whole concern was revitalizing the neighborhood," said Dr. Kenneth Scott, president and CEO of The Beech Companies.

Scott worked alongside Alston in the non-profit Alston-Beech foundation.

"We've developed thousands of units of affordable housing," Scott said of The Beech Companies which is a non-profit development company. "Our specialty is in helping low-income communities."

Alston helped disadvantaged families through volunteer work and his work with The Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation. The efforts made real progress in reviving dilapidated and abandoned properties in North Philadelphia in the 1990s, but the challenges remain especially in the area surrounding Temple University.

"People with more money are moving into the neighborhood, but what do you do with people who are there," said Craig Alston, of the problem with increasing gentrification in the area.

"There's still work to be done but he was the first to really forge a bridge with Temple and the community," said Hodges.

As the former president of the Philadelphia Board of Education, it's fitting that there are now scholarships and grants given in the Alston-Beech foundation which bears Alston's name.

"We try to give out at least 20 scholarships a year, and we're well over at least half a million in scholarships," said Scott.

The Alston-Beech Foundation continues the work that Floyd Alston began. His children say he knew that would have to continue without him. Alston died in 2012.

"If your vision is simply for your lifetime, it's not really a vision at all," said Hodges.

Floyd Alston's work has left behind not just memories but a roadmap to rebuild his community.

"The responsibility for the next generation is passed on," said Craig Alston.
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