Have a question? Need assistance? Use our online form to ask a librarian for help.
Lynn Weinstein, Business Reference Specialist, Science, Technology & Business Division
Created: January 2023
Last Updated: January 2023
Alfonzo Herndon was born into slavery on June 26, 1858, on a farm in Walton County, GA. After sharecropping as a teenager, he moved to the Atlanta area and became the region's premier barber at a time when black-owned barbershops primarily served prominent, white clients. Barbering was one of the few professions available to freed African American men that provided upward mobility. Herndon owned and operated three barbershops and invested in real estate in the business district as well as houses in Atlanta. He became one of the first African American millionaires. Segregation and Jim Crow laws resulted in a robust Black business movement, and the growth of a black middle class.
Herndon married Adrienne Elizabeth McNeil, a graduate of Atlanta University (now Morris Brown College) as well as a drama and elocution professor. Their only child, a son, Norris was born in 1897. One of Herndon's shops was damaged during the Atlanta Race Massacre of 1906, and this had a profound impact on the family. Adrienne planned an elaborate new home for the family near Atlanta University overlooking the city, but she died shortly after they moved in. The mansion is now the Herndon House Museum, a National Historic Landmark.
In 1905, Herndon purchased the Atlanta Benevolent and Protective Association and renamed it the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Benevolent societies first developed on plantations in order to care for the sick and bury the dead with dignity. This occurred at a time when there was a philosophy of self-help and philanthropy in the black community exemplified by educator Booker T. Washington. The company was expanded under Herndon's leadership to other southern states as he purchased similar ailing companies, becoming the largest insurance company owned and operated by African Americans in the United States. Herndon and Atlanta Life assisted in growing a large African American middle class in Atlanta and beyond. Herndon was a pillar of the community and a philanthropist.
In 1920, the Atlanta Life Insurance Company building was developed at 148 Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. After Herndon's death in 1927, his son, Norris B. Herndon, a Harvard MBA graduate, headed the company, and funded civil rights efforts, including the NAACP, the United Negro College Fund, Atlanta University, and the National Urban League. The company is still in existence today doing business as Atlanta Life Financial Group. In 1952, the Alonzo F. and Norris B. Herndon Foundation was established and seeks to prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs, increase diversity in the corporate boardroom, and create a more equitable seat at the table for everyone.
The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.
The following resources created and digitized by the Library of Congress can be used to find out more about the man as well as the events of the day.
Included here are research guides and blogs from the Library of Congress on the subject of African American business and entrepreneurship as well as genealogy that can be helpful in researching businesses and individuals. See the Index of Library of Congress Research Guides for other relevant guides.
These are online resources that offer information on Alonzo Herndon and his business.
Additional works on this topic in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Library of Congress Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Choose the topics you wish to search from the following list of subject headings to link directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search for the subject selected. Please be aware that during periods of heavy use you may encounter delays in accessing the catalog. For assistance in locating other subject headings that may relate to this subject, please consult a reference librarian.