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|Last Updated: 17 SEP 2021 by #0197
This biography began with a single photo that I discovered on Find-a-Grave, during some routine work on Alford interments in Jefferson County, Alabama. The caption on the photo explained that the photographer, Russell Rubdioux, had discovered the tombstone in a wooded area near the boundary of the Valhalla Cemetery in Midfield. Russell also said that there were other graves in the overgrown area.
Russell's description of the conditions under which he discovered the grave and the unusual inscription on the tombstone, "SATC, Meharry Med College", doubly intrigued me. As a retired Army officer, I was first curious about the SATC designation, and second, about why the grave was in the underbrush at the perimeter of the cemetery. As my research progressed, I became even more fascinated with Clifford Alford and his family. This biography should be considered a work in progress as I continue to learn more of this family from my home state. I am also working on a genealogy for Clifford's grandmother, Anna Alford, born 1834, Alabama, which will be published on this website. My sincere hope is that a descendent of Clifford will find this biography and contact the AAFA Genealogist. Use the CONTACT button above.
- Wayne Parrish, Alford American Family Association, Member #1254
Photo by Russell Rubdioux, used by permission.
Clifford O.B. Alford was born on September 15, 1894, in Attalla, Etowah County, Alabama, to Austin Alford and Georgia Ann Young Alford. Austin was born in nearby St. Clair Co., on May 1865, just as the War Between the States had ended. He was the first of his siblings to have been born free. As a young adult he moved to Attalla and found work in the mines in Etowah County. He continued as a miner (probably iron) for all his life. Georgia Ann Young was born in Lineville, Clay County, Alabama, the daughter of A.J. Young and Rosa ____. Austin Alford and Georgia Ann Young were married on February 13, 1887, in Etowah County.
Our first written record for Clifford is the 1900 census in which Clifford is enumerated as five year old Obenie, born in March 1895. He has an older sister, Hattie L., age 8, born in March 1892, and a younger sister, Mazie, age 2, born in March 1898. The family was enumerated on June 7, 1900, in Precinct 17, Ward 3 of the town of Attalla. In the 1900 census, Austin and Georgia Ann showed that they and their parents were born in Alabama. In 1900, Clifford's uncle and aunt, Nathaniel and Hannah, lived nearby in the same precinct of Attalla, and they were enumerated on the following day. Clifford's grandmother, listed as Annie, age 60, was living with Nathaniel and Hannah.
Clifford spent all his early life on 5th Avenue in Attalla. The family was enumerated there in the 1910 census, and they are listed at least twice in Attalla City Directories. In the 1910 census, Clifford was shown as 15 years old, and was a laborer in the ore mine with his father. However, in 1914, he is listed in the Attalla City Directory as a presser. Not long after that, Clifford left Attalla for Nashville, Tennessee, and college.
Shortly after the end of the Civil War, there was an intense effort to establish freedmen schools in the South, providing rudiments of literacy to former slaves. One such school had been established in 1865 in Nashville by the Methodist Episcopal Church (North). When the State of Tennessee established public education in 1867, the Methodists changed their focus and chartered Central Tennessee College, to provide college opportunity to freedmen.
A few years later in 1876, an Irish immigrant named Samuel Meharry made good on a long-standing promise to a black family from Kentucky. Meharry and his brothers donated real estate and $30,000 in cash to establish a medical department at Central Tennessee College, the first medical school in the South for African Americans. You may read the story of Samuel Meharry and his promise on the Meharry Medical College website, and see why the Salt Wagon is still a symbol for the school.
Central Tennessee was renamed Walden University just after the turn of the twentieth century, and in 1915, Meharry Medical College was rechartered as an independent medical college. Walden closed in the mid-1920's, but the Meharry Medical College continues its mission of providing education for doctors, dentists, and related professions in biological sciences.
Clifford Alford graduated from Walden University, and immediately entered medical school at Meharry. As war loomed in Europe, and it became apparent that the United States would probably be drawn into the fray, the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) began to plan for medical support to what might be a protracted war. The AMEDD developed a plan that included the establishment of the Students' Army Training Corps (SATC). Students that had completed undergraduate school and were already enrolled in medical or dental schools would be inducted, provided a basic training regimen, and then remain in school. Upon graduation, they would be called to active duty in the Medical or Dental Corps. The Students' Army Training Corps unit at Meharry Medical College explains the inscription on Clifford's tombstone. Meharry's particular role in providing African American dentists to the Army during World War I received major attention in the AMEDD's history of the war. The program was very similar to the Reserve Officer Training Corps of today. The students were paid as soldiers during their medical training, and the AMEDD may have also funded some of their school costs.
Clifford's basic training course appears to have been completed in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he completed his draft registration paperwork. His draft registration is signed with his full name, Clifford Ophelia Benus Alford. He is described as tall and of medium build. The registration, completed on June 5, 1917, states that his father and mother were dependent on him for support, and lists him as a medical student at Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee. The registration also shows him born on September 15, 1894, in Attalla. World War I ended before Clifford graduated from medical school, and he was evidently released from his remaining military obligation.
Clifford O. Alford, M.D., graduated from Meharry Medical College in 1921. He returned to Alabama, and began establishing a practice in Bessemer, Jefferson County. Records of the American Medical Association (AMA) reflect that his first day of practice was September 14,1921. He met Lillie Ramsey, a teacher in Jefferson County schools, and the daughter of Sidney Ramsey and Amy Williams. They were married in Bessemer on August 24, 1922. Clifford's office was located at 101½, 20th Street in Bessemer, and their home was on Carolina Avenue. In the mid-1920's, Bessemer was Alabama's fourth largest city. The 1926 City Directory listed Bessemer's population at 26,894. Dr. Alford appears to have been the third African American doctor in Bessemer. A daughter, Brice M. Alford, was born to Dr. and Mrs. Alford about 1923, and another, Evangie E. Alford, in 1925.
Clifford became ill suddenly, and he died on March 5, 1928, at the age of 33. The AMA's "Directory of Deceased Physicians Master File" shows acute gastritis and acute myocarditis as his cause of death. Clifford O.B. Alford is buried as described in the introduction above. When Lillie applied for his military marker, she listed the name of the cemetery as Washington Cemetery. We believe that this earlier African American Cemetery is at least partially on the present site of Valhalla Cemetery.
The story of Dr. Clifford Alford, only one generation removed from the bonds of slavery, is one of amazing accomplishment. I hope that I have done him justice, and that a member of his family finds this, and is pleased.