Who wants to be a millionaire? Even today the word “millionaire” is associated with wealth, so imagine what people thought about millionaires in the early 1900s. Alonzo Herndon, a former slave born in 1858 in Social Circle, was ambitious. He sought to better himself and ultimately became a millionaire in Atlanta. After emancipation, he tried sharecropping but realized his path to success meant learning a trade. He learned barbering and eventually opened his own shop in Atlanta called the Crystal Palace. Historian Marcellus Barksdale describes the shop as fitting its name because it was decorated with crystal chandeliers, large mirrors, and Atlanta’s first plate glass windows. The barbershop served Atlanta’s white elite. Through constant hard work and investments in Atlanta property, Herndon became the richest black man in America. In 1905, he founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, one of the largest black-owned financial institutions in the United States. Carole Merritt, director of Herndon Home, takes students on a tour of the house where Alonzo Herndon lived with his wife Adrienne and their son Norris. Mrs. Herndon was the head of the Drama Department at Atlanta University and an actress. Their home, located near the university, is operated as a museum today. Merritt points out how the house reflects Herndon’s ancestry through a series of painted panels depicting his past. According to Dr. Barksdale, Herndon was the embodiment of the American dream and evidence that the virtues of hard work and self help reward those who embrace them.
Teacher tip: Make a list of the character traits possessed by Alonzo Herndon according to what was shown in the video. Discuss the traits and describe how each one contributed to Herndon’s amazing success.