“It’s a great day to be in Birmingham, Alabama”—notes from the Secretary of the Interior’s visit to the A.G. Gaston Motel

A.G. Gaston Motel
Senator Deb Haaland speaks on her tour of the Birmingham Civil Rights Monument. (Olivia Moses/Bham Now)

On a windy Wednesday afternoon, also known as February 16, Senator of the Interior, Deb Haaland, visited Birmingham to not only take a tour of Birmingham’s Civil Rights History but to also witness to progress on the historic A.G. Gaston Motel.

Here are her thoughts about why Birmingham is such an important part of this nation’s history.

The custodians of America’s history

As part of a multi-state tour, Secretary Deb Haaland and Representative Terri Sewell started the day in Selma, Alabama walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge but made their way to Birmingham to close out the day.

We got a chance to attend the press conference the National Parks Service was hosting right in the middle of the halfway renovated A.G. Gaston Motel and had the opportunity to listen to their perspectives on Birmingham’s civil rights history. After Mayor Woodfin and the Deputy Director for Regional Area for Parks Service spoke, Alabama Representative of the seventh district, Terri Sewell, took the floor.

I often say that we’re just custodians of America’s history. We don’t own this history. It’s America’s history. It’s Black history, but it’s definitely America’s history. We couldn’t preserve it if it weren’t for the amazing National Parks Service and the Department of Interior. This district has received over 12 million dollars in funding in National Parks Service historic preservation of civil rights sites grants.”

– Rep. Terri Sewell, State of Alabama

From these grants, state officials were able to restore historic civil rights monuments such as 16th Street Baptist Church and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Sounds like we have Secretary Haaland to thank for that.

Why it matters

A.G. Gaston Motel
Secretary Haaland’s team heading upstairs to visit the War Room. (Olivia Moses/Bham Now)

After Secretary Haaland was introduced by Congresswoman Sewell, she had a few words about the history in the Southeast. Having grown up in New Mexico herself, she became one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. Congress. She mentioned having a deep appreciation for the struggles that Black people have and currently face because of the challenges she overcame.

“As a Native woman, as an American citizen, I have an obligation to ensure that I know my American history and so much of that is right here in the South. I’m very honored to be here, to have taken the tours, to have heard the stories from the foot soldiers who were there during turbulent times and who violence was thrust upon for the simple act of wanting to vote.”

-Deb Haaland, Secretary, Department of the Interior

She goes on to say that the projects that we see all around us in Birmingham are all worthy of taxpayer dollars because they tell the history of America.

After concluding her speech, Haaland and her team visited the War Room—a special place in the A.G. Gaston Motel that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth met in to discuss important matters during the civil rights era.

What’s next for the A.G. Gaston Motel

A.G. Gaston Motel
1968 wing and courtyard of the A.G Gaston Motel. (Olivia Moses/Bham Now)

The City of Birmingham has invested $10,000,000 into the restorations of the historic A.G. Gaston Motel. Thanks to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, 1.1 million dollars in additional grant money has been applied to the renovations of the motel—the key historic site of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. This monument is in collaboration with the National Parks Services and was recognized as President Obama’s last acts in office in 2017.

The 1958 wing of the motel was renovated back in Spring 2021 and was completed by the lighting of the historic sign. Now, the 1968 wing and courtyard are next to be completed, estimated June of 2022 according to Mayor Woodfin. The plans include an interior dining room and coffee shop

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Olivia Moses
Olivia Moses
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