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  • From Rags to Riches: The Story of Alonzo Herndon

    Alonzo Herndon, a former slave born in 1858 in Social Circle, sought to better himself and ultimately became Atlanta's first African-American millionaire. An entrepreneur at heart, he learned barbering and eventually opened his own shop in Atlanta called the Crystal Palace and later founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Historian Marcellus Barksdale describes the Crystal Palace as fitting its name. 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.

    Support Materials

    Discuss

    1. Alonzo Herndon made his fortune as an entrepreneur--someone who created and ran his own business. Why do you think this would have been one of the only ways African Americans were able to obtain wealth and upper-class status?

    2. Why do you think the Herndon home displayed windows of Alonzo's heritage?

    3. How does Alonzo Herdon embody the American dream?

    Expansion

    1. 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.

    2. Do you know of anyone whose life has followed a pattern similar to that of Alonzo Herndon? (Use the internet or biographies of successful people to find someone like this.) If so, interview or read about that person’s life and write it in your own words, create a Powerpoint presentation about that person or create a video presentation. Present this to the class. Include how this person’s life has affected your life.

    Vocabulary

    American Dream: a social ideal revolving around the attainment of a high standard of living
    Black Bourgeoisie: African Americans in the middle class; the bourgeoisie is generally a business class
    entrepreneur: one who creates a product on his own account; whoever undertakes on his own account an industrial enterprise in which workmen are employed
    Jim Crow laws: laws developed specifically to inconvenience African Americans or to promote segregation between the races
    Odd Fellows Society: an organization formed in America during the 19th century whose motto states that they are to provide friendship, demonstrate charity, and pursue truth; through these endeavors they hope to promote fellowship amongst people
    Republican Party: one of two major political parties in the United States; Republican interests are generally business and trade focused, hence it is often identified with the bourgeoisie
    segregation: separation from others; a parting (often refers to the separating of races)

    For Teachers

    Discussion Guide

    1. Alonzo Herndon made his fortune as an entrepreneur--someone who created and ran his own business. Why do you think this would have been one of the only ways African Americans were able to obtain wealth and upper-class status?
    Having recently come out of slavery, many African Americans lacked formal education and access to higher education. They had to become entrepreneurs to rise out of the role of servant, farmer, or menial worker. 

    2. Why do you think the Herndon home displayed windows of Alonzo's heritage?
    The Herndons were very proud to be African Americans. Alonzo wanted to remind himself and others that even though he had become very successful he started out as a slave. 

    3. How does Alonzo Herdon embody the American dream?
    Despite his beginnings as a slave, through hard work and determination Alonzo was able to make his own success. 

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