RG 338: The Personal Papers of Birdie and Mable Alston, 1905-2019
Collection NumberRG 338
HistoryBirdie (1919-2020) and Mable (nee Shirley) Alston (1920-2017) were married neighborhood activists and prominent community members in the Halls Hill/Highview Park area. The Alston’s came to Arlington in 1944 and settled in Halls Hill in 1947, where Birdie worked for Olmstead Oldsmobile for forty years. Both were active in the Langston Civic Association, with Birdie serving as President in the 1960s. Birdie was instrumental in creating the Neighborhood Conservation Plan project, which were popular plans to improve neighborhoods in Arlington County by documenting the current conditions of a neighborhood such as vacant lots, land use, and zoning issues, and then discussing options for neighborhood re-zoning, road, and sidewalk improvements. Birdie also led the effort to create the Halls Hill plan.
The Alstons were active in Calloway United Methodist Church and were interested in the local and national fight for civil rights. Birdie and Mable were committed to improving their own home as well, as the couple was interested in gardening, cooking, and crafts like quilt making.
Scope and ContentRG 338 is approximately 3.25 linear feet including one box of small artifacts. The material dates from 1905 to 2019, with the bulk of the dates from 1960-2010. There are publications and flyers, correspondence, funeral programs and other event programs, reports, clippings, photographs, and small artifacts.
Series 1, Funeral Programs, are over one hundred programs from funerals the Alston’s attended throughout Virginia and the Washington DC area. They contain information about the deceased’s life and family, and many include photographs; the deceased were part of the area’s Black community. Series 2, John Langston Civic Association, and Series 3, High View Park Neighborhood, document the Alston’s neighborhood activity both with Arlington County and within the High View Park/Halls Hill neighborhood. Much of the material in these series are related to the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Program and High View Park’s work on their specific plan. Series 2 also has a handwritten history of the early days of the civic association. Series 4, Civic Engagement, contains material relating to the many civic groups where the Alston’s were members. This includes the local Order of Elks, Veteran’s Memorial YMCA, and the founding of North Arlington Child Care Centers, Inc. Series 5, Religious Engagement, has similar materials but relating to churches in the Arlington area, especially Calloway United Methodist Church. Series 6, Alston and Shirley Family Materials, holds real estate records, wills, and other vital records along with correspondence, awards, and invitations relating to the Alston’s and Mabel Alston’s extended Shirley family. Of note is a small personal diary written by Mary Peniston Shirley written in 1942. Many of the items in Series 11, Physical Objects, could be considered family materials: honorary plaques and mugs, and the Shirley family Bible.
Series 7, Black History Materials, Series 8, Arlington County Materials, and Series 9, Publications and Newspapers, all contain published material on Black history, Arlington County business, and local and national subjects as detailed below. Of note in Series 8 is a set of correspondence regarding possible hiring discrimination in the Arlington County Fire Department and the development and preservation of the Halls Hill/High View Park neighborhood, some of which was a result of the local Neighborhood Conservation Plan.
Series 10, Photographs, contains prints of many unknown individuals and images taken at large events. There are 14 photographs of the second Youth March for Integrated Schools in April 1959. These images show crowds marching with banners, socializing, and listening to speakers on the National Mall. There are two images of the stage where Martin Luther King, Jr., is speaking.
Arrangement and DescriptionThis collection is arranged into eleven series by subject matter or format. Series 11 contains physical objects and is housed in a separate box. All file names were created by the processor. Folders containing photographs have an asterisk [*] after the file name. Folders with oversized materials have a double asterisk [**] to denote where material was removed and separation sheets added.
ProvenanceMuch of this collection was donated by Mr. Alston through his Power of Attorney in October 2017. A small accretion was received by the Alston estate in May 2020.
RestrictionsOne file (RG 338-6-2) contains Social Security numbers that will be redacted before access by patrons.
Related CollectionsFor other collections of active Black citizens in Arlington, see RG 11, Papers of Edmond C. Fleet, and see RG 349, Dorothy Hamm Personal Papers. This second collection has more information on the John Langston Civic Association. There are also several oral history interviews detailing life in the Halls Hill/Highview Park neighborhood. RG 41, Arlington County Beautification Collection, has more information on Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation Plans. RG 48, Records of the NAACP, Arlington Branch, has more detail on this group where the Alston’s were members.