When Arthur George Gaston, was approaching his 100th birthday, he was dubbed “Entrepreneur of the Century”.(1)
A.G.Gaston business enterprises consisted of providing jobs and recourses to the Africa-American community before and after the Civil Rights movement. Those enterprises still exist in 2015 as well as the results of his efforts. A.G. Gaston ideas, concepts and influence has made a difference.
The opportunities Gaston created was in the heart of Dixie in the state of Alabama. Most notably the communities within the cities of Birmingham and Mobile. He was also a key figure in the civil rights movement.
A.G.Gaston was born on July 4th, 1892 in Demopolis, Alabama. Gaston, who was raised in a log cabin that his former slave grandparents built, began his entrepreneurship as a child. Gaston would charged the neighborhood children a button and pin to play on the swing in his yard. He would later sell the button and pens to local women for their sewing.(1)
In 1900, Gaston and his mother Rosie moved to Birmingham, because his mother was hired as a cook for the Lovemanns.
For his preliminary education Gaston, attended the Carrie Tuggle Institute, a boarding school which was ran by former slaves. Although Gaston left the school in the 10th grade because he could not afford the expenses of the boarding school. To make ends meet, he began selling subscriptions for the Birmingham Reporter.
The year 1910 saw Gaston enlist in the U.S. Army, which he served as a sergeant in an all black unit in France during World War I. After he left the Army in 1918, he worked briefly as laborer at Tennessee Coal and Iron Company. While working there and with the help of his mother, he sold lunch boxes to fellow coworkers for an extra income. It should be noted that he also loaned his coworkers money and charged them 25 cents on each dollar loaned.
In 1923, most blacks in the south did not have an option of burying relatives and love ones in traditional funeral homes because of cost or segregation. It was then he started “Brother Gaston’s Burial Society”.
Gaston’s policy, was to provide a respectful burial for those who perished in the African-America community.The policy that exist today was; the customers paid a regular fee in exchange for the security of a burial paid for when their love ones perished.
In 1932, the aforementioned business was incorporated as Booker T Washington Insurance. This was the foundation for many other businesses that prospered. One of those businesses was Booker T Washington Business College, which was set up to train clerks for Gastons other businesses.
The Booker T Washington Business College was, at the time, the only school that African-American women could receive a certificate for business training.
During this time he also suffered a business failure in Brown Belle Bottling Company. A.G.Gaston was quoted in 1986 by saying that: “The bottling company failed due the fact that this venture was formed to make money, where as the other ventures was created to serve the people.”
A.G.Gaston Motel was founded to serve black travelers when they were not allowed to stay in white hotels. The motel, which is today recognized as a historical site, was the headquarters for the SCLC (Southern Christrian Leadership Conference). The motel was also known for accommodating Civil Rights Leaders and in some cases served as a safe haven.
When Martin Luther King was arressted in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement it was A.G Gaston who posted the $150,000 bail from his personal finances.
1955- Vulcan Reality and Investment Corporation
1957- Citizen Federal Savings and Loans Association
1963- A.G.Gaston Home for Senior Citizens
1966- A.G.Gaston Boys and Girls Club– (It should be noted that the author of this post was a member of A.G. Gaston Boys Club).
1975- WENN-FM and WAGG-AM
1986- A.G.Gaston’s Construction Company
All of Gaston enterprises gave their employees stock options. The majority of his businesses was created to give the community (mostly black) an opportunity or something they needed.
“Becoming rich was accidental because my main objective was to serve the community”-Gaston said in 1992.” (4)
On January 19th, 1996 Arthur George Gaston died. He was 103 years old and still working. He is survived by great grandchildren and grandchildren who is now continuing his legacy of sharing and making the community of Birmingham, Alabama better.
Arthur George Gaston is without question the “Entrepreneur of the Century”.
1. Retrieved on February 16th, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/20/us/a-g-gaston-103-a-champion-of-black-economic-advances.html?
2. Retrieved on February 16th, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://www.al.com/business/index.ssf/2013/03/where_is_todays_ag_gaston_blac.html
3. Retrieved on February 16th, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/g-gaston-financier-and-advocate-equality
4. Retrieved on February 16th, 2015. By Jerome Fitts http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2062