A.G. Gaston: From Log Cabin To Funeral Home Mogul

December 22, 2010  |  

(NPR) — Arthur George (A.G.) Gaston played a little-noticed role in history. An African-American man born in a log cabin in Demopolis, Ala., in 1892, he defied the social climate of the times to become a business leader, and later, a behind-the-scenes political leader at a critical time in civil rights history. Historian Suzanne Smith, author of To Serve the Living, has traced Gaston’s career from his humble roots. The unlikely entrepreneur would eventually make millions of dollars, but Smith tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep that as a child growing up in Demopolis, Gaston started out working with simpler currency. “His first business was selling rides on a tree swing in his grandparent’s backyard,” Smith says. “His friends would bring buttons.”

As a young boy, Gaston moved to Birmingham with his mother. The city was growing as an industrial center, so as a teen, Gaston was able to find work at Tennessee Coal and Iron Company — a local mining outfit. It was there, Smith explains, that Gaston’s entrepreneurial career actually began.

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