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Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin was joined by Sen. Doug Jones and community leaders today in the courtyard of the A.G. Gaston Motel to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the landmark’s opening.
A momentous place in U.S. history, the Gaston Motel was where civil rights leaders the Rev. Martin Luther King, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and others gathered to develop strategies during Birmingham’s civil rights movement of 1963.
A.G. Gaston, a Birmingham African-American millionaire, opened the motel on July 1, 1954 to offer first-class lodging, entertainment and dining options for African-Americans traveling through a segregated South. Notable celebrities such as Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington and Harry Belefonte stayed at the motel. In the 1950s and 60s, African Americans found few motels or hotels that would cater to them simply because of the color of their skin.
“The A.G. Gaston Motel represents Mr. Gaston’s entrepreneurial excellence and where history happened,’’ said Mayor Woodfin. “Many people visiting the motel, put their lives on the line for civil and human rights so that we all could experience a better America.’’
Alabama Senator Doug Jones added:
Throughout the country, we restore those places of freedom whether it is Philadelphia, Boston, areas that are famous for freedom and liberty. But there is no place more famous for freedom than right here in Birmingham, Alabama.
There is no bell like the liberty bell in Philadelphia. There is no bell at the A.G. Gaston Motel. But I guarantee you that at room 30 freedom was ringing out every time there was a strategy session, every time there was a meeting. People like these folks over here (pointing to the Foot Soldiers of 1963 in the audience) took to the streets of Birmingham, freedom was ringing out. And we cannot forget that.
Restoration of the A.G. Gaston Motel
Closed in 1986, today, the National Park Service and the City of Birmingham are partnering to restore the motel to its original look. Crews have been assessing the roof, windows, doors, frames, brick exterior, etc. to determine what is needed to restore the building to its historical significance of 1963. A. G. Gaston Construction Co. will perform the historic restoration.
The project is expected to be completed by December 2021. It will serve as a visitors’ center as well as a place for meetings and more.
A.G. Gaston Boulevard honorary designation
Along with several events celebrating the anniversary, the city will be honorary designating Fifth Avenue between 15th Street and 16thStreet North as A.G Gaston Boulevard. Mayor Woodfin, Senator Jones, Gaston’s family and community leaders were on hand for the unveiling.
In addition to the morning ceremonies, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is proving a sneak peek of the their new exhibit, “A. G. Gaston: The Man and His Legacy,” which features the contributions and achievements of A. G. Gaston. The exhibit, officially opens on July 2, 2019.
Other events include the “It Began at Bethel” and reception at the historic Bethel Baptist Church, where Birmingham’s civil rights movement began in the 1950s under the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. The address is 3200 28th Ave. North.
“Community Conversations: Birmingham’s Black Business District,” presented by Urban Impact and the A.G. Gaston Conference, at the Ballard House, 1420 Seventh Ave. North.
Last, in effort to preserve memories and history the City of Birmingham is collecting people’s stories and photos of the A.G. Gaston Motel. To share, please submit memories, photos and/or phone numbers to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the restoration project, please visit www.birminghamal.gov/gaston.