Another thing we can learn from Gaston’s life is how the connection between the Civil Rights Movement and Black economic empowerment worked. Blacks were not allowed to stay in most motels in Birmingham in the 1960s; Gaston built his own motel and allowed MLK and his team to stay there and use it as their “war room.” When King was put in jail by Bull Connor, it was Gaston who put up the bail money to get him released. It goes to show the importance of having an economic base from which to fight for civil rights.
In his review of the book, Black Titan, written by Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner Hines, David Beito wrote, “Gaston’s wealth and cordial ties with the white elite gave him a certain amount of clout that others did not have. His favorite methods were quiet negotiation, deal making, and, if necessary, private threats. He was often effective. For example, the ‘Whites Only’ signs on the drinking fountains in the First National Bank came down after Gaston threatened to pull his account. Many have forgotten the extent to which Blacks were exerting economic pressure successfully to bring integration in the decade before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Beito went on to suggest that the Civil Rights Movement was the by-product of the economic foundation first laid by individuals such as [Booker T.] Washington and Gaston.
Isn’t it amazing that in spite of the obvious fact that economics runs this country, Blacks in 2013 still place more emphasis and expend more energy on politics and so-called civil rights, than we do on economic empowerment? Booker T. once shared that a society does not have to be compelled to associate with a Black man who is educated and has $50,000 to lend. A.G. Gaston took that to heart and used it to his great financial advantage as well as for others.
To all of you future and current entrepreneurs out there, make sure to take some time to study Black business owners, especially those from the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s. S.B. Fuller, Annie Malone, Madam C.J. Walker, Anthony Overton, Sarah Washington, Phillip Payton, Herman Perry, Wendell Dabney and others are examples of what we should be doing today as business owners. Of course, there are many contemporary Black entrepreneurs we must study as well.
Booker T. Washington said, “America will have no internal peace until there has been a grant of full economic rights and opportunities to Black America.” We have a role to play in that ideal, brothers and sisters, by establishing viable businesses, growing them, and creating jobs for ourselves. Let’s get busy and remember to “find a need and fill it.”
(Jim Clingman can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.)