Black Economics: The Story of Arthur Gaston & Wealth Building in America

“By the 1960s, Arthur G. Gaston was probably the richest black man in America. He was the leading employer of blacks in Alabama and directly and indirectly gave substantial aid and comfort to the civil rights movement. In the decade after the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin Luther King Jr. and his allies used the A. G. Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama, as a safe refuge to plan their activities. When Eugene “Bull” Connor, the notorious commissioner of public safety, had King arrested in 1963, Gaston put up the $160,000 bail money from his own pocket.”

I am intrigued with big business in America, specifically how the 1% acquires and maintains their wealth. On a lower level I am fascinated with the success stories of those who have struck it rich within the free market structure that we have in America. I also like to study wealth from business and I love to watch documentaries about savvy/prominent people within the business sector.

I started looking more into the history of Black business in America during times like the Jim Crow and pre/post segregation era. I then came across this book called Black Titan. Black Titan is the autobiography of Arthur George Gaston (July 4, 1892 — January 19, 1996). He lived until he was 103 and when he passed he worth was $130 Million. He owned an insurance company, a motel, a finance and loan company and a funeral home.

His niece gave much insight into the character and philosophy of Gaston. One of the many things that stood out to me was when she said that:

“Arthur George knew that there was two sides to the civil right struggle. You must fight for your rights, but you must also develop economically. You could be a first class broke man. You can now ride any train, but do you have the price for the ticket? Then you still aren’t going anywhere. Black business owners know a crucial aspect of the civil rights movement is economics/business; without it, our communities cannot move forward.”

The niece then went on to bring up a book she used for reference when writing her grandfathers autobiography entitled, The History of Black Business in America by Juliet Walker. Amazon reviews read like this:

“…. it is a return to scholarship which concentrates on the importance of self-help, enterprise building and the ability to think and act like a free person. Since the early 1960s, studies of failure have dominated literature on Black Americans. This book returns us to literature which examine how people actually created economic stability in hostile situations. It also reminds us that the excellent literature on present day immigrant groups share a lot in common with the early literature on Black Americans. A great piece of scholarship. It is also instructive to note that Madam Walker, Booker T. Washington, and Mr. Johnson are pictured on the cover. This denotes a time which entrepreneurs, rather than politicians and ministers were the most important leaders in the black community.”

Like business, I also like to study Black history, especially Black economics. What I always found fascinating is how because of segregation, Blacks were forced to build much-needed businesses within their own communities and they did exactly that. Not just mom and pop grocery stores–but banks, hospitals, fire departments, hotels and other important businesses. 

Communities which thrived and did well. Such as Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Central Ave in Los Angeles during the 1940’s-50’s. Blacks were restricted to certain areas of the cities and they turned these sections into enclaves of business and culture; profitable business and a booming culture.

So what happened to these communities? If it wasn’t angry mobs of jealous whites who burned down places like Tulsa, Oklahoma, it was this aspect of integration which we fought so hard for. Black people were no longer restricted to areas and able to spend their dollar anywhere they chose. Black communities and businesses were no longer the go to source and we suffered tremendously. 

It is strongly believed in the African-American community that integration handicapped Black people especially when looking at it from an economic standpoint. Black people in America are said to have $1 trillion dollars in buying power current day, yet many of our communities are degraded and we are not collectively thriving. I’m not advocating segregation. Just noting the pivotal moment of our integration into America society–which was basically the merging of Black spending power into the overall American economy. I see the lack of unity and collectivism that it stripped from our people and I think that this bred a serious problem, which we are still dealing with the affects of present day.

Arthur G. Gaston: Entrepreneur Against All Odds

About slausongirl

Slauson Girl is a South Central native who has a love for journalism, history and all things Hip-Hop. She holds a B.A in Critical Race & Gender Theory & a Minor in Journalism. Follow Me on IG @Slausongirl

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