Published on February 4th, 2016 | by Jerry Doby0
Black History Month art series by artist Adam Hernandez: ‘A.G. Gaston’
Arthur George Gaston (July 4, 1892 – January 19, 1996) was a businessman who established a number of businesses in Birmingham, Alabama, and who played a significant role in the struggle to integrate Birmingham in 1963.
The grandson of a slave, A. G. Gaston was born in a log cabin in Demopolis, Alabama, to Tom and Rosa McDonald Gaston; however, he grew up in the home of his grandparents, Joe and Idella Gaston. He moved to Birmingham in 1905 with the Loveman family, who employed his mother as a cook.
Although he had aspired to attend Tuskegee Institute, Gaston’s formal education ended with the 10th grade. After earning his certificate from Tuggle (which only went through the 10th grade. He served in the army in France during World War I, then went to work in the mines run by Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company in Fairfield, Alabama.
While working in the mines, he hit on the plan of selling lunches to his fellow miners and then branched into loaning money to them at twenty-five percent interest. It was also while working in the mines that he conceived of the idea of offering burial insurance to co-workers. He had noticed that mine widows would come to the mines and to local churches to collect donations in order to bury their husbands and he wondered if people would “give a few dimes into a burial society to bury their dead”. As a result, Gaston formed the Booker T. Washington Burial Society, which later became the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company.
Realizing that there were not enough blacks with sufficient training to be able to work in the insurance and funeral industries, he and his second-wife established a business school. Other Gaston enterprises included Citizens Federal Savings and Loan Association, the first black-owned financial institution in Birmingham in more than forty years (reportedly established by Gaston when he saw how difficult it was for blacks to obtain fair loans from white financial companies) and a motel business (reportedly started because of Gaston’s concern that blacks traveling through the south during segregation often could not find accommodations). In 1954 Gaston built the A.G. Gaston motel on the site adjoining Kelly Ingram park where the mortuary had once stood. – wikipedia.org