The Benson Museum of Local History saw around 150 attendees for its Eighth Annual Black History Month Open House, held Sunday afternoon. Guests arrived early and mingled throughout the exhibits, sharing laughs and swapping stories about this year’s Black History Honoree — Nathan Alford.
Mr. Alford spent his entire career inside Johnston County Public Schools — teaching Social Studies and coaching football and basketball. He began working there in 1969, a short time after graduating from St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh. He is a lifelong resident of Benson where he resides with his wife Shirley.
“(He) has been Social Studies teacher and football/basketball coach for students who are now in their 40s,” noted Beth Rogers, a former colleague of Mr. Alford, in her nomination letter. “He was still working after retirement until (a few) years ago with Benson Middle School as the Athletic Director. To this day day, he is still on the sub-teacher list for Johnston County Schools.”
Upon making the announcement on social media, the comments to Mr. Alford’s character began roll in — 400-plus and counting. Former students, colleagues, peers, and residents were also prepared with Mr. Alford stories for Sunday — all following the same theme of a man who was firm, yet beloved by students and staff because he truly cared about their well being and station in life.
To kickoff the program, Museum Board Chair Amy Adams welcomed the crowd and brought up Mayor Pro Tem Casandra Stack. She spoke about the beginnings of Black History Month both nationally and in Benson segueing into the day’s celebration. “It wasn’t until 2012 that someone had a vision to capture the African American history in Benson, which leads us to our trailblazer today in our town — Mr. Nathan Alford,” she said.
Mrs. Rogers was next to address the room.
“My own children, who are former students of the Benson schools, were just as thrilled as I was to now be able to say ‘thank you’ to a most memorable teacher and a genuine great man,” she began. “We know that social media can be a great thing and if you have seen the Town of Benson’s site, and anywhere else this was shared, you have seen so many comments,” added Mrs. Rogers, going on to read a few of comments posted to Benson’s Facebook page.
Mrs. Rogers also presented Mr. Alford with a special hardbound book containing photos and selected comments encompassing the community’s admiration and respect toward this year’s honoree.
Following Mrs. Rogers, another former colleague of Mr. Alford, Kyle Stephenson, took to the podium — he was quick to comment on Mr. Alford’s humble personality.
“Nathan is a man of few words, he’s a humble guy — reserved. He’s probably sitting up here cringing because of all this attention. He’s kind of like the guy that likes to be in the shadows, he doesn’t want to be put out there,” he said with a smile as Mr. Alford nodded his head at Mr. Stephenson. He went on to tell a few Mr. Alford stories to thunderous laughter from the crowd.
The St. James Disciples of Christ Choir were the afternoon’s special music before Mr. Alford himself said a few words.
“As I stand here in this place and as my eyes gaze over the number of people here — faces that I recognize from many years ago. To think that God allowed me to have the opportunity for me to be your friend and for you to be my friend,” he said. “To have love in my heart for you. It is a great blessing.”
The day’s festivities concluded with refreshments in the Museum’s photo gallery, complete with a special cake from Jenny’s Sweet Creations featuring Mr. Alford’s photo and the Benson Middle School logo.
To view video highlights of Benson’s Eighth Annual Black History Month Open House click here.
To view the video program in its entirety click here.