I could pull the easy names out and give them even more exposure but the purpose of these posts is not to remind you of the wealthy African Americans you already know of. My goal is to bring to light the thousands of wealthy African Americans in an effort to show you want they don’t bring light. These guys go unmentioned because if you knew what has already been done that would show you how strong and capable we are as a race. This week the spotlight is on Mr. Alonzo Herndon.
Alonzo Franklin Herndon (June 26, 1858 Walton County, Georgia – July 21, 1927) was an African American entrepreneur and businessman. He was one of the first African American millionaires, 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. Herndon was one of twenty five slaves owned by his father though his father never acknowledged paternity. Together with his mother, her parents, and his younger brother, Herndon was emancipated in 1865, aged 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 11 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.
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. 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.
Through his enterprises Herndon became Atlanta’s first black millionaire.