Arthur George Gaston, while born in Demopolis, figures significantly in Birmingham’s history. I just read three books about him—Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black Millionaire, written by Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Gardner Hines, his niece and grandniece; his memoir, Green Power: The Successful Way of A.G Gaston; and The A.G. Gaston Motel by Marie Sutton. I highly recommend them. And I’d like to honor this remarkable man who passed away 24 years ago.
When Gaston moved to Birmingham in 1905 with his mother they had almost nothing, but this entrepreneur made a fortune and a name for himself. By the 1960s, he was probably the richest black man in America. He was the largest employer of black people with a number of businesses ranging from an insurance company to a funeral home to a savings and loan association.
His A.G. Gaston Motel provided shelter (and meeting space) for Civil Rights icons like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. When Eugene “Bull” Connor had King arrested, Gaston put up the $160,000 bail money from his own pocket. Throughout his life, he quietly promoted voting rights and equal rights. He established the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club.
His net worth was estimated at well over $130 million. Most people don’t know that in 1987, the year I was born, Gaston sold his companies—valued at $23 million—to 350 long-time employees for just 10% of the value.
Here are his 10 Rules for Success from his memoir Green Power:
Save a part of all you earn.
Pay yourself first. Take it off the top, and bank it. You’ll be surprised how fast the money builds up. If you have two or three thousand dollars in the bank, sooner or later somebody will come along and show you how to double it. Money doesn’t spoil. Keep it.
Establish a reputation at a bank or savings and loan association.
Save at an established institution, and borrow there, too. Stay away from loan sharks.
Take no chances with your money.
A man who can’t afford to lose has no business gambling.
Never borrow anything that, if forced to, you can’t pay back.
That’s simple enough.
Don’t get bigheaded with the little fellows.
That’s where the money is. If you stick with the little fellows and give them your devotion, they’ll make you big.
Don’t have so much pride.
Wear the same suit for a year or two. It doesn’t make any difference what kind of suit the pocket is in if there is money in the pocket.
Find a need and fill it.
Successful businesses are founded on the needs of the people. Once in business, keep good books. Also, hire the best people you can find.
Stay in your own class.
Never run around with people you can’t compete with. In other words, let the Joneses do what they do. You don’t have to keep up.
Once you get money or a reputation for having money, people will give you money.
People like to be with successful people. Prove yourself and keep your promises and you’ll be successful.
Once you reach a certain bracket, it is very difficult not to make more money.
At some point, your money will begin to make money—if you live wisely in order to get there in the first place.