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 a businessman and the founder and president of the Atlanta Family Life Insurance Company (Atlanta Life).


Born into slavery, he was the son of his white master, Frank Herndon, and an enslaved woman, Sophenie. Together with his mother, her parents, and his younger brother, Herndon was emancipated in 1865, aged seven years old.

The family worked in sharecropping in Social Circle, Georgia, forty miles east of Atlanta. In 1878, Herndon left Social Circle on foot and eventually went to Jonesboro, Clayton County, where he opened a barbershop. Herndon had only saved 11 dollars and only had approximately one year of schooling. 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.[1] He went on to invest in real estate, and then entered insurance. He successfully built up the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, operating in Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas.[2]

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.[3] His home, Herndon Home, is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. His son, Norris B. Herndon, expanded the company into a multimillion-dollar empire.[4][5][6] Herndon attended the First Congregational Church.[7]

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.[6]

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.


  1. ^ Benson Herdenson, Alexa. "Business Succes". Business and economy. Retrieved 2015-05-21. 
  2. ^ Business & Industry - Alonzo Herndon (1858-1927), The New Georgia Encyclopedia.
  3. ^ "Men of the Month". The Crisis 21 (5): 215–216. March 1921. Retrieved May 19, 2015. 
  4. ^ "The millionaire nobody knows", Ebony magazine, October 1955, pp. 43-46.
  5. ^ Who left what behind: wills of famous blacks; while some left millions, others left nothing but legal problems | Ebony | Find Articles at
  6. ^ 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 PDF (32 KB) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "nrhpinv2" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  7. ^ Lawrence Otis Graham, Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class, p. 344.

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