Paul Gaston talks of Fairhope utopia

cover-mlk-gastonPaul Gaston at the site of the former Buddy's restaurant, where he was assaulted in 1963.

Paul Gaston isn't just the history prof who gave MLK a tour a few months before getting pummeled while protesting segregation on Emmet Street. He's also a former denizen of Fairhope, the once-utopian Alabama community founded by his grandfather and later led by his father. And now this celebrated author has penned a new memoir about growing up–- and out of–- Fairhope.

Never heard of Fairhope? How about Henry George, the journalist so troubled by rapidly-accumulating wealth that he proposed a single tax system based solely on real estate? It was George followers who set up Fairhope, and it was Fairhope that eventually let Gaston down, as it became just another affluent community.

"A deeply ingrained privilege is not given up without protest," says Gaston, whose efforts to integrate Charlottesville included the infamous 1963 incident at which he was punched while picketing an Emmet Street restaurant.

"I read this touching, beautifully crafted book cover to cover, in one sitting, swept along by its honesty and immediacy, its ability to conjure up a momentous period in American history from a unique and yet unfailingly expansive and self-critical point of view."

So says novelist Suzanne Hudson, who extols the virtues of Gaston's Coming of Age in Utopia: The Odyssey of an Idea, alongside equally gushing blurbs from the likes of Julian Bond, John Casteen, Edward Ayers, and Larry Sabato.

"What are buddies for?" asks Gaston. "If I believed those, I'd think it was a pretty good book."


Find out what all the fuss is about December 3 when Gaston gives a reading at New Dominion Bookshop at 5:30pm.



You can reach me on my cell phone anytim, which is: (970) 673-3273. I hope to hear from you.


Hey Paul!

I was in your American History class at UVA in (damn, it's been a long time) 1961 (?), maybe. Anyhow, I got a lot of value from it.

I grew up in Prince Edward County, Virginia, which (as you well know) is where Brown v. Board of Education came from.

I always admired what you did and stood for. I have been a city planner for almost a half century. Just retired and moved back to Virginia from Estes Park, Colorado. I have aspirations to serve as adjunct faculty at one or more of our local schools. I would love to talk to you. Send me an e-mail and maybe we can hook up.

Where are you?

Wil Smith, Bachelor of City Planning, UVA School of Architecture, 1963