A.G. Gaston Motel to be restored as National Park Service moves into Birmingham
The National Park Service plans to move into Birmingham’s civil rights district by April 15, according to Birmingham Mayor's Office. The day will include a ribbon cutting and the official dedication of the site as a national historic monument. The move will bring park rangers, national park service staff and plenty of tourists.
The changes are due to President Barack Obama designating the A.G. Gaston Motel a national historic monument before he left office. The footprint of the monument, which will be staffed by the NPS, includes 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Fourth Avenue Business District.
The motel served as the headquarters for the civil rights campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The work done there helped lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Within sixteen months, the A.G. Gaston will be restored and open to the public once again.
“It just makes sense you have this key part of the story come back life,” said Ahmad Ward, Vice President of Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Ward showed us where it all unfolded.
“We're up here in the corner near the war room. You'd have Dr. King and others meet in these structures to talk strategy.”
Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and leaders from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference stayed at A.G. Gaston from April to May in 1963.
“…Deciding what they were going to do for Project C, deciding how to react to Bull Connor making statements, actually putting some building blocks in for March on Washington,” Ward explained.
Soon the public will be able to hear the story where it happened.
The plan is to preserve the war room. Other parts of the motel will be used as archive space for the BCRI. Office space, retail and the old restaurant will be brought back to life.
Ward says key events also unfolded in the courtyard.
“They had a press conference here in this courtyard and that’s where Shuttlesworth read the treaty,” he added.
Beginning next week, you can get your national parks passport stamped at the BCRI ticket office. Mayor William Bell will be the first to get his passport stamped from Birmingham on Friday.
“We want the whole world to know why this place was important,” Ward said.
A preservation architect is already working on the motel. In 30-60 days, work will begin on lead abatement and asbestos removal. The roofs will be next. Then, the restoration process will begin.