Businessman, Philanthropist, Civil Rights Supporter
From humble beginnings in rural Demopolis, Alabama, as the grandson of slaves,
Dr. A. G. Gaston became one of the most influential men in the state's largest
city. After military service in World War I, he returned to Birmingham, the
primary place of his rearing, and launched phenomenal, multifaceted careers.
Founding the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company led him to a partnership
in the Smith and Gaston Funeral Home. These accomplishments later led to the
creation of Booker T. Washington Business College, an institution for training
youths for employment in the economic realm. These achievements were only preludes
to other enterprises: a bank, a motel, radio stations, a senior's home, and
a construction firm. All of these businesses were designed to provide local
citizens with opportunities and benefits that prevailing social policies at
that time had denied them.
The keys to Dr. Gaston's success were the virtues of courtesy, dependability, hard work, honesty, and thrift. These qualities were complimented by his exceptional business abilities and a deep desire to serve others. It is no coincidence that his early businesses were named for Booker T. Washington, a man who's philosophies he adopted and lived. From that creed evolved the public service that made him a role model. In 1966, he founded and endowed the A. G. Gaston Boys Club, now known as the A. G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club. In 1987, Dr. Gaston made a bargain-sale arrangement allowing his 350 employees to acquire his nine corporations. The combined worth of which was 34 Million dollars. However, consistent with his character, he created a stock-option program allowing his employees to purchase the companies for only 3.4 Million dollars.
As the civil rights issues polarized the South, Dr. Gaston was a steadying influence and a pivotal leader. Avoiding the streets and the lunch counter, he offered mediation and financial advice to those in need of guidance. Indirectly, he provided accommodations, bail, and other support for civil rights leaders. Directly, he provided a level mentality and persuasive negotiation skills. As one of the city's major businessmen, he applied leverage to gain cooperation, ease tensions, and acquire concessions for the black community.
He was a devoted husband to his wife and co-laborer, Minnie Gardner. He had one son, Arthur George Gaston, Jr. As an Alabamian and a Southerner, he was a model of responsible citizenship. Throughout his life he was committed to the African Methodist Episcopal Church and served the denomination as a national officer.
Although he never finished high school, A. G. Gaston received several honorary degrees. Many other items of recognition include Black Enterprise magazine's Entrepreneur of the Century, Sertoma Club's Service to Mankind Award, the Liberty Bell Award from the Birmingham Bar Association, the Birmingham City Council's Gallery of Distinguished Citizen's Award, Commendation for Outstanding Service from the Boys Club of America, Birmingham's first A. G. Gaston Distinguished Citizen Award.
Arthur George Gaston was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 1999.