Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire
by Carol Jenkins
The grandson of slaves, born into poverty in 1892 in the Deep South, A. G. Gaston died more than a century later with a fortune worth well over $130 million and a business empire spanning communications, real estate, and insurance. Gaston was, by any measure, a heroic figure whose wealth and influence bore comparison to J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Here, for the first time, is the story of the life of this extraordinary pioneer, told by his niece and grandniece, the award-winning television journalist Carol Jenkins and her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines.
Born at a time when the bitter legacy of slavery and Reconstruction still poisoned the lives of black Americans, Gaston was determined to make a difference for himself and his people. His first job, after serving in the celebrated all-black regiment during World War I, bound him to the near-slavery of an Alabama coal mine—but even here Gaston saw not only hope but opportunity. He launched a business selling lunches to fellow miners, soon established a rudimentary bank—and from then on there was no stopping him. A kind of black Horatio Alger, Gaston let a single, powerful question be his guide: What do our people need now? His success flowed from an uncanny genius for knowing the answer.
Combining rich family lore with a deep knowledge of American social and economic history, Carol Jenkins and Elizabeth Hines unfold Gaston’s success story against the backdrop of a century of crushing racial hatred and bigotry. Gaston not only survived the hardships of being black during the Depression, he flourished, and by the 1950s he was ruling a Birmingham-based business empire. When the movement for civil rights swept through the South in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Gaston provided critical financial support to many activists.
At the time of his death in 1996, A. G. Gaston was one of the wealthiest black men in America, if not the wealthiest. But his legacy extended far beyond the monetary. He was a man who had proved it was possible to overcome staggering odds and make a place for himself as a leader, a captain of industry, and a far-sighted philanthropist. Writing with grace and power, Jenkins and Hines bring their distinguished ancestor fully to life in the pages of this book. Black Titan is the story of a man who created his own future—and in the process, blazed a future for all black businesspeople in America.
About The Author
Carol Jenkins is an award-winning writer, producer and media consultant. She is a sought-after speaker and writer on issues relating to the media, specifically the participation of women and people of color; women’s participation in the political and economic structures in the US; and the health of women in developing countries, particularly on the African continent.
An Emmy-winning former television journalist, she was founding president and board member of The Women’s Media Center, the groundbreaking non-profit aimed at increasing coverage and participation of women in the media. In that WMC role she conceived the acclaimed Progressive Women’s Voices media leadership program, and acquired and expanded the largest portfolio of women experts in the country, SheSource.
The WMC served as consultant to the award-winning documentary on sexism in the media, Miss Representation, and Ms Jenkins is interviewed in the film. Every year The WMC gives The Carol Jenkins Young Journalist Award to an accomplished media professional.
Carol Jenkins is Chair of the Board of Directors of AMREF USA. The African Medical & Research Foundation, a 55 year old organization based in Nairobi and founded as The Flying Doctors, is the largest African health NGO on the continent. AMREF operates in more than 30 countries in the delivery of services, training of a local health workforce, and providing safe water and sanitation. AMREF is winner of both The Bill and Melinda Gates Award for Global Health and The Hilton Humanitarian Prize.
As part of her international work, Ms Jenkins is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations.
In addition to continuing to serve on The Women’s Media Center board, she is Chair of the Black Maternal Health Advisory Board of Women’s eNews, the online international women’s newspaper; member of the President’s Council of Advisers at The National Council for Research on Women; a member of the Advisory Board of The Alliance of Women Film Journalists; and an Advisory board member of the Caring Economics Campaign, a project of The Center for Partnership Studies.
Ms Jenkins formerly served on the boards of The Ms Foundation for Women and The Feminist Press. She pursues her interest in the Arts as a board member of the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance. Born into a farming family in Alabama, she is honored to serve as a member of the board of Humane Farm Animal Care, the national certifying entity for farms and retail establishments for humane treatment of animals.
Carol Jenkins is the co-author, with her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines, of Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire. A biography of her uncle, it was winner of Best Non-Fiction award from the Black Caucus of The American Library Association. She was an Executive Producer of Eve Ensler’s Sundance award-winning documentary, What I Want My Words to Do to You and is a contributor to the recently published book, Secrets of Powerful Women, Leading Change for a New Generation.
A recipient of both the Lifetime Achievement and International Reporting awards from the National Association of Black Journalists/NY, she holds honorary degrees from Marymount Manhattan College and The College of New Rochelle. During her reporting career she anchored WNBC-TV’s evening newscast, covered presidential and mayoral politics, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa, and hosted, on WNYW, her own daily talk show, Carol Jenkins Live.
Recent honors include the 2012 Ida B. Wells Bravery in Journalism Award from Women’s eNews; inclusion in the 2012 Class of TheGrio 100 Leading African Americans; the 2009 North Star News Prize, and the 2008 Women’s Equality Award from The National Council of Women’s Organizations.
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