UpwardAction Salutes Arthur (A.G.) Gaston
The Inspired Life of Arthur George (A.G.) Gaston Sr.
One of America’s wealthiest Black men during his time, aid to Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement and leading employer for African Americans in Alabama during the 1960s. These descriptions all apply to African American business giant, Arthur G. (A.G.) Gaston, Sr. The grandson of a slave, Mr. Gaston was born in 1892 in a log cabin in Demopolis, Alabama. Although he had hoped to attend Tuskegee Institute, which was founded by a man he greatly admired – Booker T. Washington, Mr. Gaston was only able to complete the 10th grade before enrolling in the US Army and serving in World War I.
What Mr. Gaston was able to accomplish with a 10th grade education, an unrelenting work ethic and faith is remarkable.
The Rising Entrepreneur
After World War I, Mr. Gaston worked in the coal mines, where he started a business of selling lunches to his fellow miners. He later grew this business into loaning money to the miners at twenty-five percent interest. It was also while working in the coal mines that Mr. Gaston created a business selling burial insurance, primarily to miners. This business venture became so successful that it evolved into the Booker T. Washington Burial Society and later the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company, which would become the largest black-owned insurance company in Alabama.
A Legacy of Ingenuity
Mr. Gaston leveraged his entrepreneurial success into building businesses in multiple industries, including:
- The Booker T. Washington Business College
- A.G. Gaston Construction Company
- A.G. Gaston Home for Senior Citizens
- Citizens Drugstore
- Smith & Gaston Funeral Directors Inc.
- New Grace Hill Cemeteries Inc.
- Zion Memorial Gardens & Mausoleum
- Vulcan Realty & Investment Co. Inc.
- Booker T. Washington Broadcasting Service Inc., which included radio programming for R&B and gospel music
- Booker T. Washing Insurance Company
Whew! Mr. Gaston's vast empire provides a powerful lesson about the profitable impact of providing much needed services to people in need.
A Commitment to Community
Mr. Gaston supported the Civil Rights movement financially and was an advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; however, he was often at odds with leaders of the Movement when it came to direct confrontation with white business owners and establishments. In fact, he actively discouraged Dr. King from organizing several demonstrations, while simultaneously investing $160,000+ to bail Dr. King out of jail.
Regardless of how one feels about Mr. Gaston's views on how African Americans should be purse equal rights in our nation – Mr. Gaston certainly provides an example of how one can both disagree with leadership, while supporting important cases.
Even though Mr. Gaston took (what some would say) was a less radical approach to the advancement of civil rights than Dr. King and other civil rights leaders, his contribution did not go unnoticed by racist whites in the South. However, while his businesses were certainly impacted by the racist behavior of Southerns, they did not stop or deter his progress.
A Live Well-Lived
Mr. A.G. Gaston passed away in 1996 at the age of 103 after a long life of spirit and leadership. At the time of his death, he had a reported net worth of 130 million dollars and his Insurance business still stands in service.
You can learn more about this powerful African American business giant by reading this excellent article at Black Enterprise by clicking here.
You can also read his personal story at Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire.