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Chris and Marti Alston Papers

 Collection
Identifier: UP001779
The bulk of the Chris and Marti Alston papers document their experiences as community activists in the redevelopment of the Forest Park urban renewal area. To a lesser extent, the collection documents the Alstons' involvement in various social justice and human rights causes.

Important subjects in the collection: African Americans--Michigan--Detroit African Americans--Housing--Michigan--Detroit Aged--Recreation--Michigan--Detroit Central Industrial Park Citizens' District Council (Detroit, Mich.) Community development, Urban--Michigan--Detroit Community organization--Michigan--Detroit Detroit (Mich.). Model Neighborhood Agency Forest Park I and II Citizens' District Council (Detroit, Mich.) Forest Park Development Corporation (Detroit, Mich.) Gangs--Michigan--Detroit Housing rehabilitation--Michigan--Detroit Michigan Committee for a Democratic Haiti National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America Republic of New Afrika Paul Robeson Trade-unions--African American membership United States. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Urban homesteading--Michigan--Detroit Urban homesteading--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia Urban renewal--Michigan--Detroit

Important correspondents in the collection: Diggs, Charles C., Jr. Obadele, Imari A. (Richard Henry, Jr.)

Series Description: Series I, Personal Files, 1940's-1995: Correspondence, interview transcripts, investigative reports, resumes, media references and other material profiling the Alstons and their accomplishments.

Series II, Forest Park, 1965-1993: Correspondence, reports, grant applications, meeting minutes, surveys, legal briefs, contracts, maps, publicity and other material related to the development of the Forest Park urban renewal area.

Series III, Subject/Organization Files, 1942-1996: Unless otherwise indicated, printed material on a number of issues the Alstons endorsed and institutions and organizations with which they were affiliated, including those like the MESC and the Michigan School of Social Science, which employed Mr. Alston.

Dates

  • 1942 - 1996
  • Majority of material found within 1960 - 1989

Creator

Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.

Access

Collection is open for research.

Use

RESEARCHERS USING THIS COLLECTION MUST SIGN A RESTRICTED USE FORM. NO NAMES APPEARING IN THE DETROIT POLICE RED SQUAD FILES, OTHER THAN THOSE OF CHRIS AND SYLVIA ALSTON, MAY BE CITED WITHOUT THE WRITTEN CONSENT OF THE INDIVIDUAL NAMED. NO UNPUBLISHED MATERIAL IN RESTRICTED FILES MAY BE COPIED.

Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.

Extent

6 Linear Feet (5 SB, 1 OS)

Abstract

Chris Alston worked as an organizer for the the CIO during the 1930's, founding what became the Tobacco Stemmers' and Laborers' Industrial Union (CIO) in Richmond, Virginia. He served as president of United Auto Workers Local 429 from 1958 to 1962. Mr. Alston worked as a community organizer in Detroit, founding what became the Forest Park Citizens' District Council. Marti Alston served as an officer of the Forest Park Citizens' District Council and founded with her husband Chris the Michigan Committee for a Democratic Haiti. The bulk of the Chris and Marti Alston Collection documents their experiences as community activists in the redevelopment of the Forest Park urban renewal area. To a lesser extent, the collection documents the Alstons' involvement in various social justice and human right causes.

History

Christopher Columbus Alston, Jr. was born in DeFuniak Springs, Florida on April 20, 1913. The Alstons moved to Detroit in 1916, where Chris attended public schools, dropping out of Northeastern High School to help support the family during the Depression. In 1932 he participated in the Ford Hunger March and witnessed the shooting of one of his friends, cementing a lifelong commitment to social justice. He left Detroit to organize black youth in Harlem and the South and in 1938, after founding what became the Tobacco Stemmers' and Laborers' Industrial Union (CIO) in Richmond, he traveled throughout Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee organizing black workers for the CIO.

After returning to Detroit in 1939, Chris Alston directed the Michigan Historical Records Survey's Inventory of Negro Manuscripts, but left soon after to help the CIO organize black workers at the Ford Rouge plant and edit an African-American edition of the union newspaper, Ford Facts. In 1941 he co-authored Henry Ford and the Negro People with his first wife, Sylvia Alston, exposing the racism behind Ford's use of blacks to break the union. During World War II, as co-chair of Packard Local 190's Inter-Racial Committee, he agitated for jobs for black women. The resulting disruption caused by white hate strikes cost him his military deferment and landed him in the Aleutians for the remainder of the war. After a stint as a self-employed businessman in the early fifties, he worked at the New Haven Foundry, serving as president of its UAW Local 429 from 1958 until 1962.

In the 1960's Chris Alston left the auto plants and turned to community organizing, first as a youth worker for Detroit's Total Action Against Poverty program, which he helped develop, and then as founder of a series of community planning and development groups in his old neighborhood on Detroit's lower east side that evolved into the Forest Park I and II Citizens' District Council (1968) and the Forest Park Development Corporation (1975). Alston also set up the Coordinating Council for Community Redevelopment in 1969 to represent nineteen CDC's in Detroit urban renewal areas. His three decades of advocacy on behalf of the residents of what some described as Detroit's worst slum paid off in the construction of four low-income and senior citizen housing developments in the Forest Park urban renewal area, including one named for his friend, Paul Robeson. In addition to his role as leader of the Forest Park redevelopment program, Chris Alston counseled older workers in public and private programs in Detroit during the 1970's and 80's and continued writing a book on the slave reparations movement he had begun during his research for the Inventory of Negro Manuscripts. In 1984 he was awarded a prestigious Distinguished Warrior citation by the Detroit Urban League. Shortly before his death on March 12, 1995 he and his wife, Marti, set up the Michigan Committee for a Democratic Haiti, which lobbied on behalf of the embattled government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In 1973 Chris Alston married Martha (Marti) Arnold, whom he had met in 1969 when she was a student in a Merrill-Palmer Institute work-study program with the Forest Park CDC. With an educational background in recreation and gerontology and sharing her husband's dedication to citizen involvement in neighborhood redevelopment, Marti Alston served as an officer of the Forest Park CDC and Forest Park Development Corporation, assisting residents with program planning, grant preparation and public relations work.

Arrangement

Arranged in 3 series – Series 1 (Box [1), Series 2 (Boxes 1-5) and Series 3 (Boxes 5-6). Folders are arranged alphabetically.

Acquisition

The papers of Chris and Marti Alston were placed in the Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs in 1997 by Marti Alston.

Related Materials

Blacks in the Labor Movement Oral Histories; Carl Almblad Papers; Jerome P. Cavanagh Papers; Detroit Commission on Community Relations/Human Rights Department Records; Developing Urban Detroit Area Research Project Records; New Detroit, Inc. Records; Mel Ravitz Papers; Talking Union Oral Histories; Ruth M. Tenney Papers

Transfers

Some photographs, including several documenting construction of the Paul Robeson International Settlement housing project, have been placed in the Archives Audiovisual Department, along with a number of audio tapes of public meetings, lectures and radio broadcasts on black history, Detroit urban renewal projects, Haiti and other issues and events.

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Walter P. Reuther Library in October 2002.
Title
Guide to the Chris and Marti Alston Papers
Status
completed
Author
Processed by Walter P. Reuther Library.
Date
2002-10
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

Contact:
5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA