Alonzo Franklin Herndon
1858- Born a slave.
1882- Arrives in Atlanta.
1883- Operates barber shop with partner.
1902- Opens a barber shop at 66 Peachtree Street. which
became one of the most elegant establishments in Atlanta.
1905- Starts Atlanta Life Insurance Company.
1905- The Niagra Movement (later
NAACP) is organized by W.E.B. DuBois-They
were considered radical because they demanded action. Atlantans
George A. Towns, John
Hope, Alonzo Herndon and his son
Norris Herndon attend.
1920- The company moved to 148
1927- Alonzo Herndon dies at 69 years old.
Born in 1858 on a Georgia plantation, Alonzo was seven years
old when the Civil War was over. With a few household goods
his entire extended family set out with their newly freed
status and uncertain prospects. The family's former master
and genetic father offered Herndon a job as a farmhand at
age 13. At age 20 in Senoia, Georgia, he learned the barbering
trade and was able to rent his own space in a barbershop and
then open a small barbershop in Jonesboro. Being offered a
position by the black proprietor of Dougherty Hutchins' barbershop,
catering to a wealthy, white clientele, Herndon moved to Atlanta.
In less than a year he was made a partner and the shop's name
was changed to Hutchins & Herndon. Three years later,
in 1886, Herndon rented a shop of his own and one year later
moved to the city's prestigious Markham House Hotel. In 1896
the beautiful Markham Hotel burned down, leading Herndon to
open another shop.
In 1893, he married a young woman from Atlanta's
old black elite--Adrienne Elizabeth McNeil, a graduate and
a faculty member of Atlanta University teaching elocution
In 1902, at 66 Peachtree Street, around the
corner from Auburn Avenue, he opened a barber shop that become
known as one of the most elegant establishments in Atlanta.
The shop is described as measuring 24 by 102 feet, having
25 chairs and 18 baths with tubs and showers. It was outfitted
with crystal chandeliers, gilt-framed mirrors and fittings,
massive front doors of solid mahogany, and beveled plate glass
and became a legend 'known from Richmond all the way to Mobile
as the best barbershop in the South.' It was an unofficial
city attraction, since tourists as well as local Atlantans
came to stare at it in wonder.
Meanwhile, Herndon capitalized and acquired
over a hundred residential houses, along with a large commercial
block of properties.
In the late 19th century blacks began forming
church relief societies and benevolent associations providing
funds for home mortgages, death benefits and loans to capitalize
small businesses as African Americans could not get these
services elsewhere. In 1905, Herndon was approached by two
prominent black church pastors. One of them, Rev. Peter Bryant
of Wheat Street Baptist Church,
had recently formed the Atlanta Benevolent & Protective
Association, and was in dire need of capital. Herndon
agreed to buy and reorganize the company. The company was
renamed Atlanta Mutual Insurance Association and later it
would gain fame as the Atlanta Life Insurance
Company. Herndon was named its first president. Throughout
the next year several branch offices were opened in Georgia.
An editor of the Atlanta Independent newspaper, wrote,
"When people buy a policy in Atlanta Life they are buying
Alonzo Herndon." In 1920, the company moved its headquarters
to 148 Auburn Avenue.
Herndon headed Atlanta
Life for 22 years and expanded operations into six other
southern states. The company's only rival among black owned
insurance firms was the highly successful North Carolina Mutual
in Durham. This was one of several well capitalized efficiently
managed institutions in Durham making this city an important
center of black enterprise as well as Atlanta.
The 1920s were prosperous years for Atlanta
Life, a prosperity that continued under the leadership
of Herndon's only child Norris. The company is still in operation
now headquartered in a complex of new and original buildings,
providing employment for hundreds of blacks for almost a hundred
In addition to constructing and developing
office buildings in the 1920s, in 1915, Alonzo and Adrienne
completed construction of a mansion. Known today as the Herndon
Home, it is an Atlanta landmark and is supported by a foundation
created by their son. Norris lived here until his death in
1977. Proudly displayed on a wall of a room in the Herndon
Home is a painted mural depicting a plantation with his mother
and family in tattered clothes, standing before their log
cabin on the moment before they set out on their journey with
bedrolls, quilts and tin pots.
Visit the Herndon
Book: "The Herndons: An Atlanta Family" by Carole Merritt, 2002.