David S. Alston, the first African American Penn State football player (along with his younger brother, Harry), was immortalized in a bust that was unveiled on April 21, 2012 during the Penn State Black Alumni Reunion "Blue White For the Future Scholarship Gala" at the Nittany Lion Inn.
The bust, sculpted and donated by Penn State Professor of Art Blake Ketchum, will have a public home in the All-Sports Museum, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In addition to the sculpture, a scholarship fund is being established in Alston's name.
"This truly was a historic Penn State Alumni Association reunion event," said Heather James, 1992 Smeal College of Business alumna, and Black Alumni Reunion chair.
James said that "just as David Alston was 'exceptional on and off the field,' the David Alston Society is being formed to acknowledge Penn State black alumni donors who are exceptional with their philanthropic support of the For the Future: AAAO Trustee Scholarship campaign."
The gala was attended by over 200 alumni, Penn State dignitaries, former football players and 15 members of the Alston family, including his sister and granddaughter. A new video on Dave Alston, produced by Penn State, premiered at the event as well.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AaZHG6Lq_Q. This long overdue recognition comes about 70 years after his tragic and untimely death.
Penn State's first African-American football player, Alston played on the 1941 freshman team, along with his younger brother, Harry. Considered exceptional on and off the field, Alston was a pre-medical student and an accomplished singer and pianist. The son of a minister, he had been student council president and class valedictorian at his mostly white high school in Midland, Pa., as well as a basketball, baseball and football star.
A dominant halfback on the undefeated Penn State freshman football squad, Alston was expected to lead the varsity squad to a similar record during the 1942 season. Alston was being compared to such greats as Jim Thorpe and Paul Robeson, and had made several pre-season All-American lists. He died from complications following minor surgery on Aug. 15, 1942, six weeks before the varsity season began. "if Dave Alston had reached his potential we would be talking about Dave Alston in the same breath as we talk about John Cappelletti and Joe Paterno," said Lou Prato, Penn State sports historian.
"Despite his universally acclaimed and almost unbelievable abilities, very few of today’s Penn State students, alumni, faculty, staff or even athletes have heard of this forgotten legend," said Darryl Daisey of the Penn State Black History Project. "We hope the bust, the scholarship fund, and the video can help change that."
On August 15, 1942, Dave Alston, star of the 1941 Penn State freshman football team, died from complications following a tonsillectomy operation about 6 weeks prior to his highly anticipated regular season varsity football debut. The 20 year old sophomore pre-medical student had been a dominant halfback on the undefeated Penn State freshman football squad (freshman were not allowed to play varsity football at that time), and was expected to lead the varsity squad to a similar record during the 1942 season. Alston and his younger brother Harry - who also played on the 1941 freshman team – are reported to be the first African American football players at Penn State.
Weighing over 200 lbs and standing well over six foot tall, Alston was a triple-threat on the gridiron. He ran with amazing speed, was an exceptionally accurate passer, and could kick more than 60 yards. He was often compared with such greats as Jim Thorpe and Paul Robeson by Penn State football coach, Bob Higgins, and other football experts. Higgins called Alston "the greatest player I ever coached." Alston had been named the top sophomore football player in the nation by the Saturday Evening Post and a preseason All-American by Esquire Magazine.
Alston was exceptional off the field as well. The son of a minister, he had been student council president and class valedictorian at a mostly white Midland High School (Midland, PA), as well as a basketball, baseball and football star. In addition, he was an accomplished singer and pianist. At Penn State he was known as a friendly, intelligent, and fun loving excellent student who wanted to be a "good doctor" one day. Despite his almost unbelievable ability on the gridiron, his attitude was unassuming and sincere. Teammates indicated that Alston would "go out of his way to help anyone." He was a great source of pride for the school and the state of Pennsylvania, but especially among the African American population.
In an April, 1942 varsity Spring practice game against Navy, Alston demonstrated his potential in leading Penn State to a 12 – 6 victory over the Midshipmen. Unfortunately, Alston bruised his eye in the final three minutes of the game, and had to miss the last practice game against Duquesne. Many in the State College Black community believed Navy deliberately hurt Alston, and that resulting internal injuries contributed to his early death.
At 9:00 am on August 15, 1942, Alston went to Centre County Hospital for a tonsillectomy. Shortly following the operation, a blood clot formed and caused his lungs to collapse. By 11:45am Dave Alston was dead. The entire Penn State community was stunned by his death.
Or go to www.blackhistory.psu.edu for more information on Penn State African American history