The National Park Service and the city of Birmingham had a ribbon-cutting at the historic A.G. Gaston Motel – a key component of the Birmingham National Civil Rights Historic Monument.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said on social media Thursday, “Today is a big day for Birmingham and the history of our city. After many years of work, the A.G. Gaston Motel has been restored to its former glory, alongside a new educational exhibit of the hotel's history.
“Now if y'all don't know about A.G. Gaston, let me tell you! A.G. Gaston was Birmingham's FIRST Black millionaire. He originally opened the A.G. Gaston Motel on July 1, 1954, and it quickly became one of the city’s main Black establishments. It offered first-class lodging, entertainment and dining options for African Americans traveling through a segregated South.”
Woodfin said that civil rights activists were frequent guests at the Gaston.
“Gaston frequently opened the motel’s guest rooms to civil rights activists,” Woodfin continued. “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.'”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other local, state, and federal dignitaries were also on hand. The event revealed the restored exterior of the motel and courtyard, the 1968 wing with the restored coffee shop, the dining room, and a special exhibition. The second phase of the A.G. Gaston Motel restoration project is now substantially complete.
Recognizing the significance of the property, the city of Birmingham acquired the former motel in 2015 with the plan to incorporate it into the larger Birmingham Civil Rights Historic District. Today, the A.G. Gaston Motel is jointly owned by the National Park Service (NPS) and the city of Birmingham and is a part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. The monument was created by President Barack Obama by presidential proclamation on January 12, 2017.
The A.G. Gaston Motel was a significant site of civil rights activities in 1963 that served as the headquarters of the campaign to desegregate public accommodations in Birmingham. From the motel, Martin Luther King Jr., Fred Shuttlesworth and other Civil Rights Movement leaders made critical decisions that advanced the cause of civil rights locally and shaped events and legislation nationally.
The A.G. Gaston Motel was designed by Birmingham-based architect Stanley B. Echols. The motel opened in 1954 and occupies a 0.88-acre parcel at 1510 Fifth Avenue North within the city center. The motel was a brick midcentury building composed of a two-story L-shaped corridor that housed visitor accommodations and a one-story wing fronting Fifth Avenue that housed a lobby, coffee shop, and porte-cochere. The construction drawings for the motel depict 29 guest rooms, each room featuring high-end furnishings. In December 1954, Gaston added a restaurant building on the east side of the coffee shop to serve his guests.
To learn more, visit the National Park Service website.
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email brandon.moseley@1819News.com.
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