Arthur George Gaston was a wealthy businessman and civil rights activist. Gaston was born on July 4, 1892, in Demopolis, Alabama, to Tom and Rosa McDonald Gaston. However, 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 served in France during World War I. He received an honorable discharge and returned to work for the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company in Fairfield, Alabama. Gaston became an entrepreneur while working at the mine by selling meals and affordable burial insurance to the black community.
He eventually opened up his own insurance company and funeral home. As his business began to grow, he opened the state’s only black-owned savings and loan establishment. Gaston often sponsored big entertainment events for the black community.
In 1954, Gaston opened A.G. Gaston Motel near his other businesses to welcome black visitors who had been turned away from hotels that practiced Jim Crow segregation. Before the end 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.
Gaston often worked behind the scenes when it came to supporting civil rights activists. He would donate money to help with legal teams. He also gave financial donations to Tuskegee activists who were forced out of their homes because they challenged voting discrimination. 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. Gaston died in 1996 at the age of 103.