Today, Birmingham celebrated the restoration of the historic A.G. Gaston Motel—the centerpiece of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, which was established in 2017 by President Barack Obama.
“This is a proud day for Birmingham,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin, who invited former mayors Richard Arrington and William Bell to join him at the podium. “The Gaston Motel has a special place in history and in the hearts of our residents as well as people across the country. Now, new memories and a new history can be written.”
Renowned Birmingham businessman A. G. Gaston originally opened the motel 68 years ago on July 1, 1954. It quickly became one of the city’s main black establishments.
Home to Civil Rights
Gaston frequently opened the motel’s guest rooms to civil rights activists. Room 30 became known as the “War Room,” where Project C was strategized by the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders. It was in that room where King decided to defy a court injunction and be jailed alongside local protesters — a move that led to his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
Restoration Began in 2019
Since it became a National Monument several years ago, the City of Birmingham had committed $10 million to restore the motel. In addition, the Mellon Foundation awarded a $1.1 million grant to the City for the restoration of the coffee shop, dining room, and exhibit.
Restoration of the coffee shop will provide an operational facility to serve food and beverages for residents and tourists, and the original dining room will serve as the location of the permanent exhibit on the life and legacy of Dr. A. G. Gaston.
The Gaston Motel’s multi-phase restoration began in 2019 on the 1954 wing of the hotel. The A. G. Gaston Construction Company—a legacy company of Dr. Gaston—was contracted to undertake the restoration.
Also in attendance with Mayor Woodfin were Congresswoman Terri Sewell, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttiegieg, most of the Birmingham City Council and countless local, state and federal dignitaries.
“It’s so important that we not only preserve these sites (A.G. Gaston), but we also come and be renewed in a space like this.” declared Congresswoman Sewell. “Renew and re-dedicate ourselves to the premise for which they all fought — which is for this country to live up to its highest ideals of equality and justice for all. It is going to take all of us to do that. And we will begin by celebrating the ribbon cutting right here at A.G. Gaston.”
Following the ribbon-cutting there was a tour of an exhibit in tribute to the life of A.G. Gaston as well as several panel discussions.
Full Circle Moment
Marie Sutton, Public Information Officer for the City of Birmingham and author of the book The A.G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham – A Civil Rights Landmark summed up the day best:
“It’s a full circle moment. The A.G. Gaston Motel was a place that everybody would gather for events — for history. It was part of history not only the civil rights history, but the history of families, history of friends. So now to have all these people buzzing and talking about this place again, it’s just a full circle moment.”
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