BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Years after the last customer walked out, a former motel that catered to black tourists in Birmingham and played a part in the civil rights movement of the 1960s will soon be restored.
On Wednesday, the newly improved sign of the A.G. Gaston Motel was lit, representing the end of the first phase of a plan to renovate the former hotel, first built in 1954 along Fifth Avenue North by Birmingham businessman Arthur George “A.G.” Gaston.
“The A.G. Gaston motel sign served as a beacon to black families traveling through the segregated South,” Mayor Randall Woodfin said in a written statement. “It’s a sign that will now shine in remembrance of Dr. A.G. Gaston’s legacy – a legacy of black prosperity, equal opportunity, Southern hospitality and freedom.”
In addition to being one of the few motels in the city that accepted black customers, the motel was better known for hosting meetings of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1960s. Room 30 became known as the “War Room” where King and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth came up with “Project C,” a strategy of protesters boycotting downtown department stores and occupying lunch counters in April 1963.
On May 11, 1963, a bomb exploded outside the motel’s west side below Room 30 that injured three people and damaged part of the building.
During the 1970s, business declined at the motel, eventually leading Gaston to restructuring the building as a senior living home in 1982. By 1996, the building had been abandoned.
The A.G. Gaston Motel is included in the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument that was established by former President Barack Obama in 2017. The initial renovations began in 2019 with additional phases that are scheduled for completion in summer 2022.
A multi-phase restoration began in 2019 on the 1954 wing of the hotel. This wing includes Room 30. The exterior restoration of the 1954 wing is now complete.
“The completion of Phase 1 is an exciting achievement for all of us,” Kristofer B. Butcher, superintendent of Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument, said. “It’s an important step in preserving the Gaston Motel and standing up operations and visitor services at Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument. We are immensely proud of our partnership with the City of Birmingham and look forward to continuing our work together.”