Black History Month Spotlight: Dr. A.G. Gaston, Namesake of 2023 A.G. Gaston Conference February 21-22



Dr. A.G. Gaston, 1892-1996

Today's Black History Spotlight is on the late Dr. A.G. Gaston, who amassed a business empire worth over $40 million by the time of his death at age 103 in 1992 and was named by Black Enterprise as the Black Entrepreneur of the 20th Century.

Gaston's business principles, which include "Find a Need and Fill It," are the subject of the annual A.G. Gaston Conference, founded in 2004 by Bob Dickerson of the Birmingham Business Resource Center and Gaynelle Adams Jackson of Advanced Planning Services.  The 2023 A.G. Gaston Conference begins on Tuesday, February 21 and concludes Wednesday, February 22 at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. To register, go to

Born in poverty in rural Alabama in 1892, Gaston's business holdings included Booker T. Washington Insurance, a funeral home, a bank, two radio stations,  and a business college. As a child, Gaston lived in extreme poverty. In a 2010 interview with NPR, historian Suzanne Smith, author of To Serve the Living, traced Gaston's career from his humble roots growing up in Demopolis. 

"His first business was selling rides on a tree swing in his grandparents' back yard," Smith says. "His friends would bring buttons."

After his mother moved the family to Birmingham in 1905 in search of a better life, Gaston as a teenager found work at Tennessee Coal & Iron Co., a Birmingham mining company. There, Smith says, Gaston's entrepreneurial spirit was born.

"While he was on the job, (Gaston) notices that one of the biggest needs in the black community is a fine funeral when you die," Smith says. "And he decides he's going to start his own burial society."

In 1923, Gaston started his first company, Booker T. Washington Insurance Co. with $500. That successful company spawned a business empower that included the Smith and Gaston Funeral Home, the A.G. Gaston Motel, Citizens Federal Savings & Loan, and more. He later bought WENN-FM and started WAGG-AM radio stations in Birmingham, and established the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club to invest in young blacks.

His A.G. Gaston Motel provided rooms and meeting space during the 1960s  for Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, becoming Birmingham's only first-class accommodation that accepted blacks. When Birmingham Police Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor  arrested King after a civil rights protest, Gaston put up the entire $160,000 in bail money.

1. 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.

2. Establish a reputation at a bank or savings and loan institution.  Save at an established institution and borrow there too. Stay away from loan sharks. 

3. Take no chances with your money. A man who can't afford to lose has no business gambling. 

4. Never borrow anything that if forced to it, you can't pay back. That's simple enough.  
5. Don't get big headed 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. 
6. 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. 

7. Find a need and fill it. Successful businesses are found on the needs of people. Once in business, keep good books. Also, hire the best people you can find.  

8. Stay in your own class. Never run around with people that you can't compete with. In other words, let the Jones do what they do. You don't have to keep up. 

9. 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. 

10.  Once you reach a certain bracket, it is very difficult to not 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. 

"I could have sold it for a lot more. But I couldn't see throwing them out of jobs. They helped me build this thing," Gaston told Money Magazine in an interview.  

Below is a daily agenda for the 2023 A.G. Gaston Conference.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

9:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. Registration

12:00 - 1:15 p.m. A.G. Gaston Legacy Luncheon 
Featuring Natalie Madeira Cofield

1:30 - 2:45 p.m. A Conversation with Nicholas Perkins - People Impacted by A.G. Gaston

Featuring Nicholas M. Perkins, founder of Perkins Management Co.; Harrison Prince of Harrison Prince Design; Gaynelle Jackson of Advanced Planning Services LLC.  Perkins was just 24 years old when in 2005 he founded a contract food management company that now is a multimillion business  with clients such as colleges and hospitals cross the country. 

2:50 - 3:25 p.m. MasterCard Presentation -

4:00 - 4:50 p.m. - Can DE&I and ESG Salvage Supplier Diversity?  

Moderator: Dr. Anthony C. Hood, executive vice president and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer for First Horizon Bank
 - Alvin-O Williams, CEO of the South Region Minority Supplier Development Council (SRMDC)
 - Ron Mathieu, who as president and CEO has led to an $8.3 million transformation of the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport 
 - Yvette Stevens, vice president and director of economic inclusion at Gilbane Building Co.  

5:00 -  7:00 p.m. - A.G. Gaston Legacy Reception & Awards Program

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

9:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. - Registration

9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. - Continental breakfast

9:45 a.m.  - Opening Remarks

10:00 -10:45 a.m. - Green Paper Presentation - Michael Green, Vice President of New Economies, Bitwise Industries   

10:50 - 11:50 a.m. - Dynamic Mayors Leading the Rebirth of the South - Featuring Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed

12:00 - 1:30 p.m. - The Green Power Luncheon, featuring Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

The Green Power Luncheon is named after Dr. A.G. Gaston's  memoir Green PowerMorial heads the National Urban League, a prestigious Black civil rights organization that has a local chapter (Birmingham Urban League). 

The National Urban League recently released its 2022 State of Black America report.