Alston House Center for Peace and Justice

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The Alston House, built in the 1920s, was the home and office of Dr. Lucius Alston, the first African American doctor to practice in Mesa. During an era of segregation, he treated members of the African American, Hispanic, and Native American communities. After a three-year restoration project, the house will serve as office and community space for the Mesa Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee and the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens.
Phil Austin, chairman of the Alston House Committee and president of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens, along with Cliff Moon of the Mesa Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee talk about Dr. Alston and the history of the house.

José Cárdenas: The Alston house was the office of Dr. Lucius Alston, the first African-American doctor to practice in Mesa. He treated members of the Hispanic, Native American, and African-American communities. Today this historical house has been part of a restoration project, turning it into a symbol of racial equality. First we'll hear from people at the Alston house grand opening.

John Goodie: This historic moment, you know throughout the city much Mesa we got the Temple historic district, we got the Heritage historic district, and even though this isn't an historic district, we have a house that could be the start of an historic district which is the Washington escobido park area. [APPLAUSE] We're here to commemorate a man who embroiled the spirit of getting service to others, a man who provided medical service to anyone without regards of race, economical means to pay for services, he was a man that chose back in early times to come to Mesa, Arizona, when segregation was at its height. He chose Mesa, Arizona, to come and to open up an office here back in 1928, to serve the community. And he would be very proud.

Armando Espinoza: Dr. Alston moved into a house and occupied this house and turned night a home. And turned it into a home, but turned into service to the community, he gave selflessly of himself and provided a service that very few others would. So with, that I won't get into a long speech, but to say we're here and thank you, John, that was so wonderful, your commemoration. We're here to commemorate Dr. Alston and be here to sustain his legacy to keep not only his memory alive, but the Alston house alive that it continues to be a house of service. And with, that welcome, everybody.

José Cárdenas: Joining me now is Phil Austin, chairman of the Alston house committee, and president of the Mesa association of Hispanic citizens, and Cliff Moon, with the Mesa Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration committee. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us on "Horizonte."

Phil Austin: Thank you.

Cliff Moon: Glad to be here.

José Cárdenas: Cliff, give us the history of the Alston house. We had a brief mention of it in the intro, that it was Dr. Alston's place of not just living, but what he practiced there for a while, but fill us in as to how it start and what it means to the community.

Cliff Moon: As I understand, Dr. Alston had come to the city of Mesa I believe it was around the late 1920s or so. He wanted to set up a facility where he could carry out his medical practice. At that particular time in Mesa, African-Americans and also Latinos, and I believe a few Native Americans were restricted to live in the North side of Mesa, north of University. As I understand in talking with some of the folks who were there at the time that Dr. Alston moved in, he would serve them, because they were not permitted to go to the hospitals that treated only whites, or could visit with doctors who only treated whites. And as a result of his practice and the house that he purchased, it became a beacon for those in the community to not only get treatment there, but also to be able to speak with him and have an opportunity to realize some of the things that inherently were owed to them as citizens of the Mesa community.

José Cárdenas: And Phil, as I understand it, this was actually in an area called the Mitchell addition.

Phil Austin: Initially it was in Mitchell addition. A piece of property that was purchased by the father of Harry Mitchell, former representative Harry Mitchell, for the purpose of providing an area where African-Americans and Hispanic community members could reside in the then segregated system that pervaded Mesa as well as the rest of Arizona.

José Cárdenas: You grew up in a house not very far from Dr. Alston.

Phil Austin: That's true, three houses down. I grew up there, in that area, and although I was very young and don't recall much of it, we left at an early age, the neighborhood I was still familiar with because my dad had a grocery store there. And it was a vibrant neighborhood, and I think why it's important to honor -- to have the grand opening to preserve this house is that I think we should all remember that at a time, at a difficult time, maybe a negative time in our past where people were treated differently and negatively because of the color of their skin or their class, one man among many treated people equally. Without regard to class or finances. And that was Dr. Lucius Alston, who treated, again, the minority community, but their stories that many of the members of the Anglo community would come and visit him at night so they wouldn't be seen, but he would still treat them and treat anybody who sought his services.

José Cárdenas: Phil, tell us how this rescue effort, this restoration effort came about.

Phil Austin: Over four years ago, the Alston house came into the hands of Habitat for Humanity, whose purpose is to build housing, and they were going to knock it down, or raze the house. Members of the community, the Martin Luther King celebration committee and the Mesa association of Hispanic citizens worked with representatives of the city of Mesa to arrange a swap of land with the Habitat for Humanity, and to preserve the house. We did so by requesting an -- being grand community development federal block grant money, and state historic money to remodel the house. Then as I think a really a prime of example of how government, community organizations and the private industry could work together to resolve problems, many businesses came forward to help the groups along with the resources of the city to remodel it and to develop the landscaping, the outside so it was really presentable. So at the open house, grand opening celebration, we had last Friday, it was just, we honored -- it was evident of all the work of these groups, and we honored many of the businesses and community groups who led or contributed in the effort to preserve this house for the many important reasons that it should be preserved.

José Cárdenas: We've got a picture of it on the screen. Cliff, one of the things that is of particular significance in this effort was the collaboration between your organization and Phil's. Why is that?

Cliff Moon: OK. In my opinion, in talking with the members of our committee and also having an opportunity to talk with the people within the community, there has been a sort of an undercurrent or a sense of animosity about some of our Latino community members. Some people have said to me that it seems as though that in our community that when our Latino brothers and sisters tend to become very vocal, that people tend to listen to them. Whereas if African-Americans or Native Americans, or Asian Americans, it seems as though we're not giving the opportunity or the time to have our concerns addressed or listened to. And I think that by the committees, the two organizations coming together, that it's very symbolic and that it also sends the message that we can all work together regardless of our race, regardless of our ethnicity, regardless of our religion, our traditions, our values, that we can come together as a people and address the issues that inherently impact all of us.

José Cárdenas: Cliff, your website is on the screen, is that where people who want to support the efforts of the Alston house in particular, I know there's more funding needed, is that where they can go to do that?

Cliff Moon: Yes, they can. You will find on the website that we have an area there where you can donate, also on our website we talk about some of the activities that we are going to be doing. I will say that -- and I have talked with my colleague Phil, that it is my hope that we will become not just a celebratory committee, but that we will also be a voice for individuals in our community where we promote justice and where we ensure that people regardless of their cultural makeup, are receiving the rights that they truly should be receiving within our community.

José Cárdenas: Phil, tell us about some of the specific activities that both your groups envision being conducted at the Alston house.

Phil Austin: Good. Mesa association of Hispanic citizens has ongoing activities involved in the field of education, economic development, health, and so we have discussed with several of our supporters, one example is the Arizona regional medical center, the local hospital there, about the possibility of providing medical presentations for the community there in diabetes control and other health issues to be proactive to help that community, the local community obtain better health care. We have worked with our -- are discussing with the small business development corporation about perhaps providing some training about how to start and grow --

José Cárdenas: it will become a real center for serving the community's needs.

Phil Austin: Right.

José Cárdenas: That's terrific. We're glad you're both here to talk to us about it. We're out of time afraid, but thank you for joining us.

José Cárdenas: That is it for us tonight at "Horizonte," I'm Jose Cardenas, have a good evening.

Phil Austin:Chairman: Alston House Committee and President, Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens; Cliff Moon:Mesa Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee;

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