The next influential individual worked to better the lives of the African American population through his creation of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Born a slave in Walton, Georgia in 1858, Alonzo Herndon was the son of Franklin Herndon, a white slave master, and Sophenie, one of his slaves. At the end of the Civil War, Herndon and his family were freed, entering a life of their own. Homeless and poverty-stricken, Alonzo worked as a laborer and peddler at a very young age in order to provide for his family.
Like so many other newly-freed slaves, Herndon went on to become a sharecropper, where he worked on rented land in exchange for a place to live and a small share of the crops he produced. Fascinated by business and entrepreneurialism, Alonzo produced and sold peanuts, homemade molasses, and axle grease to earn extra money for his family. In 1878, Herndon saved up enough money to move out of the Social Circle and began to learn the barbering trade.
A few months later, he moved to Jonesboro and opened his first barber shop. There, he built a good reputation as a barber and migrated to several other cities before eventually settling in Atlanta, where he got a job in a barber shop. After six months, he gained half interest in the shop, partnering with one of the few people operating a pre-civil war barbering facility. Before long, Herndon’s passion for barbering grew, leading him to open three barber shops in the Atlanta area by 1904, including his most successful shop: 66 Peachtree Street. Decorated with gold and crystal chandeliers, the luxurious barbershop served as a popular place for the city’s lawyers, judges, politicians, and businessmen to get their hair cut.
As Herndon’s success grew, he gained possession of more homes, businesses, and eventually started investing in insurance. In 1905, he purchased a failing mutual aid association, and continued investing until it became the Atlanta Life Insurance Company in 1922. Achieving Legal Reserve Status, something accomplished by only four other black insurance companies at the time, the Atlanta Life Insurance Company continued to succeed and grow, reaching to several states across the Southern US.
He also merged several failing companies into his own in order to prevent people from losing insurance. Along with being an entrepreneur, Herndon was also a fantastic leader. The African American population often looked up to him as a social and political leader. He was apart of many organizations including Booker T. Washington’s National Negro Business League and W.E.
B. Dubois’ Niagara Movement. He also left an enormous impact on the local level, frequently donating to charities, local colleges, churches, and orphanages. Overall, Alonzo Herndon changed the world for the better, encouraging African Americans all across the nation. He is still known today as one of the most inspiring African American business leaders. All of these people have left a great impact on the world around them, always striving to make the world a better place.
They have allowed us to get to where we are today, and we wouldn’t be here without them. These are the inspiring individuals of the difficult, prejudiced New South Era.