Alonzo Herndon

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Alonzo Herndon
Atlanta Life Insurance in its early days

Alonzo Franklin Herndon (June 26, 1858 Walton County, Georgia – July 21, 1927) was an African American entrepreneur and businessman. He is one of the first African American millionaires, and the founder and president of one of the United States' most prominent African-American businesses, the Atlanta Family Life Insurance Company (Atlanta Life).

Early life[edit]

Born into slavery, he was the son of his white master, Frank Herndon, and an enslaved woman, Sophenie. Herndon was one of twenty-five slaves owned by his father, though Frank never acknowledged paternity.[1] Together with his mother, her parents, and his younger brother, Herndon was emancipated in 1865 when he was seven years old. They entered freedom with no financial background. At a very young age, Herndon worked as a laborer, and a peddler, to support his family. The family worked in sharecropping in Social Circle, Georgia, forty miles east of Atlanta.


In 1878, Herndon left Social Circle on foot with only eleven dollars of saving and only had approximately one year of schooling and eventually went to Senoia, Georgia, to work as a farmhand and learned the barbering trade. Later, Herndon opened up his first barbershop in Jonesboro, Georgia. His barbering business thrived and expanded over the years. He later became the owner of three barbershops in Atlanta. Those barbershops had elite customers such as presidents, judges, business men and lawyers, who frequented the barbershop.[2] He went on to invest in real estate, and then entered insurance. He began by buying a failing mutual aid association in 1905, which he incorporated as the Atlanta Mutual Insurance Association. By 1916, the Association was reorganized as a stock company capitalized at $25,000.[3] In 1922, the company was reorganized as Atlanta Life Insurance Company, and became one of five African American insurance companies at the time to achieve legal reserve status. Atlanta Life’s business thrived,and expanded their business into Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas.[4]

Through his enterprises Herndon became Atlanta's first black millionaire. Herndon was featured in The Crisis Magazine’s “Men of the Month” in March 1921. The article emphasizes his competence and success as a businessman.[5]

Personal life and Legacy[edit]

In 1893, Herndon married Adrienne Elizabeth McNeil, a professor at Atlanta University. After Adrienne died in 1910, Herndon married Jessie Gillespie of Chicago. His home, Herndon Home, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. His son, Norris B. Herndon, expanded the company into a multimillion-dollar empire.[6][7][8] Herndon attended the First Congregational Church.[9]

The Herndon Home

The Herndon Home was built in 1910 and may be visited at 587 University Place NW in the Vine City neighborhood. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2000.[8] Herndon Homes, an Atlanta public housing project (now demolished) was named for Herndon, as was Herndon Stadium at Morris Brown College, which was the field hockey venue at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

The Herndon Home is open for tours to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Saturday tours can also be arranged upon request. Further details can be found on their website


Alonzo Herndon died in Atlanta on July 21, 1927 at the age of 69.


  1. ^ "Alonzo Herndon (1858-1927)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2016-05-28. 
  2. ^ Benson Herdenson, Alexa. "Business Succes". Business and economy. Retrieved 2015-05-21. 
  3. ^ "Alonzo Herndon, pioneering businessman | African American Registry". Retrieved 2016-05-28. 
  4. ^ Business & Industry - Alonzo Herndon (1858-1927), The New Georgia Encyclopedia.
  5. ^ "Men of the Month". The Crisis. 21 (5): 215–216. March 1921. Retrieved May 19, 2015. 
  6. ^ "The millionaire nobody knows", Ebony magazine, October 1955, pp. 43-46.
  7. ^ Who left what behind: wills of famous blacks; while some left millions, others left nothing but legal problems | Ebony | Find Articles at
  8. ^ a b Frank J. J. Miele, John Sprinkle and Patti Henry (November 1999), National Historic Landmark Nomination: Herndon Home (pdf), National Park Service  (includes biography of Alonzo Herndon) and Accompanying six photos, of Herndon and family and of exterior and interior of mansion, from c. 1910, c. 1915, 1998 (32 KB)
  9. ^ Lawrence Otis Graham, Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class, p. 344.

External links[edit]