The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners recently acted to name the main street into Mill Creek Regional Park and Splash in the Boro Waterpark in memory of the board’s first African-American member, Commissioner Gordon Alston.
He served more than 20 years as a county commissioner before his death on Feb. 29, 2004, at age 64. Appointed after several years in the late 1970s when black citizens filed lawsuits to obtain representation on Bulloch County government boards, Alston was then re-elected multiple times. A date has not been set for a ceremony for placement of a sign, but the road name will be Alston Boulevard, according to the unanimous vote. Chairman Roy Thompson presented the proposal Feb. 2.
“Commissioner Alston was most proud of his contributions to the planning and development of Mill Creek Park. ...,” Thompson read from prepared materials, which included input from Alston’s family.
“Though not a person who sought recognition, Commissioner Alston would be extremely proud and grateful for this warm and thoughtful gesture from Bulloch County today,” he said.
Thompson also said that Alston had liked to travel, driving to many state and Association County Commissioners of Georgia events and “boring meetings” on behalf of the county.
‘Under his wing’
Commissioner Anthony Simmons made the motion for the road renaming, and Commissioner Ray Mosley seconded it. Among the current commissioners, they are the two who are African American. They both represent what has long been established as Bulloch County’s black-majority District 1, while the other four regular commissioners represent white-majority District 2 and the chair is elected by voters county-wide.
First elected in 1994 after an NAACP class-action lawsuit led to the creation of Seat 1-B, Simmons served a decade with Alston and has now been a commissioner for more than 26 years.
He actually grew up across the road from Alston and his family.
“When I became a commissioner he took me under his wing and he taught me about county business,” Simmons said. “We traveled up and down the road together and had many conversations. We took turns driving to those boring meetings.”
But they also had a lot of good times along the way, he said, telling an anecdote of one such journey to a conference in Atlanta.
“One thing about Gordon, he never got angry, where I could see it,” Simmons added. “I mean, he was always even-keel. I mean, I would be mad; he wouldn’t, and I couldn’t understand it, but he was always a good teacher and a good commissioner.”
‘Ahead out there’
Mosley is Alston’s direct successor, having first been appointed by the Bulloch County Superior Court judges in 2004 to fill the final six months of his unexpired term. After being appointed by the judges again in 2010 to complete the term of the late Commissioner George Jackson in the same seat, Mosley was elected to his own first full term in 2012 and has remained a commissioner.
“I’m thankful to have known Mr. Gordon and to have had the opportunity to serve in his capacity,” Mosley said. “I perhaps wouldn’t be involved in politics or get to serve if he hadn’t been ahead out there.”
He first got to know Alston through an influential pastor, who would have lunch with Alston at Ella’s Diner and invite Mosley along as they talked about things that needed to be done in the community.
“It piqued my interest to want to be a part of the community and do something positive in the community,” Mosley said.
After Alston’s death, the Georgia General Assembly adopted a resolution honoring him, which county officials presented to his family along with a large, framed portrait. His son Sidney, who has been working for the county as a building inspector since 2007, said the family cherishes the photograph, which hangs in the living room of his and his wife Connie’s home. They attended the Feb. 2 meeting.
But over the years, as other streets and buildings have been named, many people in the community asked Sidney Alston why his father wasn’t being recognized
“That was just the type of person he was,” Alston said. “He didn’t seek recognition, and he taught me that way.”
Mill Creek connection
Then a few years ago, Sidney Alston had a bout with cancer, which eventually went into remission but left him with a new perspective.
“In that process we get a chance to reflect on a lot of things in our lives and what we did and what we can do going forward,” Alston said.
The thought of the county not having recognized his father’s historic role in a lasting, public way then came to nag at him, he said.
So when Thompson approached him a while back and asked how he was doing and if there was anything he needed or wanted, he said, “You know, as a matter of fact there is,” Alston recalled in an interview.
Thompson had immediately agreed, they both said, and soon mentioned the possibility of naming the new senior citizens center, now operated by Action Pact.
But when Alston suggested instead naming the main road at Mill Creek Park for his father, Thompson liked the idea.
“When they got back with me, that’s what they decided on, and we’re grateful,” Alston said.
His father, he said, was instrumental in the development of the park. He had a childhood friend who was an official with a national softball association. Through this connection, Bulloch County landed a multi-year agreement to host softball tournaments from around the country at what was originally a park with four ballfields, Alston said.
Thompson noted the late commissioner’s involvement in another landmark project. He said that Alston had enjoyed working “with his dear friend and facility namesake, (the late) Sheriff Arnold Ray Akins” on the then-new Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office complex on U.S. Highway 301 North.
Wore many hats
Alston was born in Littleton, North Carolina, but lived in Bulloch County for more than 40 years. Upon graduating with honors from North Carolina A&T State University, where he was active in the Reserve Officer Training Corps, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and served six years.
Here, he worked as assistant financial aid director at Georgia Southern – College and later University – for 28 years and after retiring was retained as a consultant in financial aid matters.
Overlapping that career, he served as a licensed funeral director for Payton's Mortuary for almost 35 years.
He was a member of Brannen Chapel United Methodist Church where he had served as a Sunday School teacher, Sunday School superintendent and member of the trustees board and became a certified lay speaker, worship leader and vice president of the church’s male chorus.
Alston was also a member of the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP, the Black Elected Officials and two regional development boards and president of a local organization called the Charity and Goodwill Independent Society.
The sign has been ordered and county officials will plan a ceremony, Thompson said.