Economic Empowerment through Enterprise Development

Who Was A. G. Gaston?

Who was A. G. Gaston, Birmingham AlabamaArthur George Gaston, wealthy businessman and civil rights activist, was born on July 4, 1892 in Demopolis, Alabama to Tom and Rosa McDonald Gaston.  He was raised by his former slave grandparents Joseph and Idella Gaston.  In 1905 Arthur Gaston moved to Birmingham, where he attended the Tuggle Institute for black children.  In 1910 he joined the army and during World War I served overseas in France.  After his honorable discharge from the military, Gaston worked for Tennessee Coal and Iron Company in Fairfield, Alabama.  While employed at the mine, Gaston became an entrepreneur, selling meals and affordable burial insurance to the black community.

In the late 1930s he opened an insurance company and funeral home across from Kelly Ingram Park in downtown Birmingham.  As his insurance business grew, he diversified his financial services by opening the state’s only black-owned savings and loan in the early 1950s.  His business also sponsored black cultural events and even formed a black quartet that performed on the nation’s first African American radio program.  In 1954 Gaston opened A.G. Gaston Motel near his other businesses to welcome black visitors turned away from hotels that practiced Jim Crow segregation.  Before the close of the decade he employed the largest number of African Americans in the state and he had become one of the wealthiest African Americans in the United States.

During the early years of the modern civil rights movement, Gaston effectively maneuvered quietly behind the scenes to support civil rights activists.  He offered to donate money to the legal team of Autherine Lucy, an African American who in 1955 had filed a lawsuit to integrate the graduate school at the University of Alabama.  He also gave financial assistance to Tuskegee activists forced out of their homes because they challenged voting discrimination.  In 1956 when Birmingham civil rights activist Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, the organization held its initial meeting at Gaston’s downtown office.   Gaston also allowed activists to lodge at his hotel and meet there to plan campaigns.   During the 1963 Birmingham demonstrations at Kelly Ingram Park, Gaston used his financial resources to bail out of jail Martin Luther King, Jr. and other incarcerated activists.

When Gaston died at age 103 on January 19, 1996, he had left behind the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company, the A.G. Gaston Construction Company, the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club, and CFS Bancshares, the nation’s second largest black-owned bank.


The Ten Rules

  1. Save a part of all you earn. Pay yourself first. Take it off the top and bank it. You'll be surprised how fast the money builds up. If you have two or three thousand dollars in the bank, sooner or later somebody will come along and show you how to double it. Money doesn't spoil. Keep it.

  2. Establish a reputation at a bank or savings and loan association. Save at an established institution and borrow there. Stay away from loan sharks.

  3. Take no chances with your money. Play the safe number -  the good one. A man can't afford to lose has no business gambling.

  4. Never borrow anything that, if forced to it, you can't pay back.

  5. Don't get big-headed with the little fellows. That's where the money is. If you stick with the little fellows, give them your devotion, they'll make you big.

  6. Don't have so much pride. Wear the same suit for a year or two. It doesn't make any difference what kind of suit the pocket is in if there is money in the pocket.

  7. Find a need and fill it. Successful businesses are founded on the needs of the people. Once in business, keep good books. Also, hire the best people you can find.

  8. Stay in your own class. Never run around with people you can't compete with.

  9. Once you get money or a reputation for having money, people will give you money.

  10. Once you reach a certain bracket it is very difficult not to make more money.

blacktitanBlack Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaireby Carol Jenkins, Elizabeth Gardner Hines

The grandson of slaves, born into poverty in 1892 in the Deep South, A. G. Gaston died more than a century later with a fortune worth well over $130 million and a business empire spanning communications, real estate, and insurance. Gaston was, by any measure, a heroic figure whose wealth and influence bore comparison to J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Here, for the first ...more

a-g-gaston-bookGreen Power: The Successful Way of A. G. Gaston

by A.G. Gaston

"Green Power" is the story of Arthur George Gaston, a man who became one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 20th century. His is the classic story of the American Dream, but what he achieved came not merely in the face of poverty or challenging circumstances. Dr. Gaston also had to overcome the hope-crushing segregation of the Jim Crow South. At the time of this republis ...more