CHIEF WILLIAM F. ALSTON, ALIQUIPPA’S FIRST BLACK POLICE CHIEF
by Joby Brown
For New Pittsburgh Courier
African-Americans who made history, both locally and nationally were recognized as Aliquippa’s Franklin Center hosted the 150th Celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation.
A museum like atmosphere greeted visitors at the Broadway Café in downtown Aliquippa where the event was held. Citizens from Beaver County, Allegheny County and eastern Ohio, along with public officials attended the public exhibition. Students from several school districts attended mid-day sessions.
Leanne B. Spearman, from the Big Beaver Falls School District facilitated one day. The event was considered a huge success by Franklin Center official, Cheryl King, who beamed, “I am very pleased with the turnout, the exhibits and what they represent.”
The same feelings were shared by those who attended.
There were displays honoring national history makers like President Barack Obama, W.E.B. DuBois, former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and many others, including an exhibit of George Washington Carver and many Black inventors and inventions such as the ironing board, the iron, hair curlers and other devices.
The most striking display was an authentic set of shackles that slaves were forced to wear, binding the neck, wrists and ankles. Adjacent to this exhibit was a wooden replica of the actual “quarters” that kidnapped Africans were forced to occupy during the trans-Atlantic voyage from the Motherland to North America, South America and the Caribbean.
The shackles were unbelievably heavy just to pick up, it is unimaginable what it would have been like to actually wear them, not to mention move about with them on.
Many from Beaver County were recognized on both wall and table displays, including William F. Alston, the first African-American police chief of Aliquippa; Dwan Walker, the first African-American mayor of Aliquippa; and Deacon George James, Beaver County’s first Black judge.
Lieutenant Calvin Smith of the Tuskegee Airmen; Delitha Green, Beaver County’s first Black RN and head nurse; and Joan Cockfield Tyson, one of the first three to graduate from Providence Nursing School were honored.
Rosalee Alford, one of the first teachers was recognized, along with Joseph Brown, who umpired Negro League games as they barnstormed in the Pittsburgh area, and his father, John who operated a very successful trucking business during the Great Depression.
Re-Konception!, the first local ministry to win a national award was honored. Cynthia Cook was the first African-American woman to serve as Big Beaver Falls school board president and as a dean at Geneva College. And Clifford Alford, was the first Black elected to Beaver Falls City Council.
George Walker was the first Black to serve as Rochester’s mayor. Many others were honored as Black people who made their marks in Beaver County history recently and years ago.
Shon Owens, Fatherhood Coordinator of the Aliquippa Council of Fathers said that The Franklin Center, which hosted the event was organized to help 14,000 people who lost their jobs when LTV Steel collapsed 25 years ago. It was formed to help lead those displaced employees into something different after the demise of Aliquippa’s manufacturing industry.
What resulted were education, housing, utilities and various programs. Owens stated, “I was brought on board to help address the epidemic of fatherlessness the is in our community. I also coordinate Fatherhood Initiative where we try to help fathers establish a stronger connection with their children.”
Owens, who’s background is in culinary arts said, “you can’t teach anyone to be a father, it is something that is born inside of you. God has given you that as a man, to rear your children, He built in protection and provider and your worth.”
These are the principles Owens strives to help men bring out and exhibit as fathers.
“Help them connect with their values, show them how valuable they are and that they are irreplaceable,” he said.
Shon and his wife Jikkiko have five children.
Owens concluded by describing the 150th Celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation as a way to recognize the achievements and accomplishments of not only nationally known African-Americans, but to introduce many local achievers to the public.
“Sometimes we aren’t aware of the great things that people living right next door to us have done,” he said. “Not to diminish the wonderful legacies Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and others, but let’s celebrate people from our community too.”