He began life as a slave but, at 47, Alonzo Herndon started the company that became one of America’s most successful black-owned businesses. Alonzo Franklin Herndon was born in Social Circle, the son of a black mother and a white owner.
With just a year of formal education, he opened a barbershop in Jonesboro in 1878 then moved to Atlanta. By the turn of the century, he owned three barber shops, serving some of Atlanta’s most elite white citizens. One, the elegant “Crystal Palace,” operated until 1972.
The ambitious Herndon invested heavily in Auburn Avenue real estate and in 1905, he paid $140 for a small burial association. It eventually became the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, which made him Atlanta’s first black millionaire.
It had 23 offices in Georgia alone. He and his wife Adrienne, an Atlanta University professor, built a 15-room mansion that still stands. The Atlanta Life Insurance Company remains one of the top black financial institutions in America, a testament to the enterprising spirit of a former slave and the company he began on September 6, 1905, Today in Georgia History.
Today in Georgia History is a joint collaboration of the Georgia Historical Society & Georgia Public Broadcasting.