Cover image for The Herndons : an Atlanta family
The Herndons : an Atlanta family
Merritt, Carole.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Athens, Ga. : University of Georgia Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
xii, 258 pages : illustrations ; 26 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F294.A853 H476 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Born a slave and reared a sharecropper, Alonzo Herndon (1858-1927) was destined to drudgery in the red clay fields of Georgia. Within forty years of Emancipation, however, he had amassed a fortune that far surpassed that of his White slave-master father. Through his barbering, real estate, and life insurance ventures, Herndon would become one of the wealthiest and most respected African American business figures of his era. This richly illustrated book chronicles Alonzo Herndon's ascent and his remarkable family's achievements in Jim Crow Atlanta. In this first biography of the Herndons, Carole Merritt narrates how Herndon nurtured the Atlanta Life Insurance Company from a faltering enterprise he bought for 140 dollars into one of the largest Black financial institutions in America; how he acquired the most substantial Black property holdings in Atlanta; and how he developed his barbering business from a one-chair shop into the nation's largest and most elegant parlor, the resplendent, twenty-three chair ""Crystal Palace"" in the heart of White Atlanta. The Herndons' world was the educational and business elite of Atlanta. But as Blacks, they were intimately bound to the course of Black life. The Atlanta Race Riot of 1906 and its impact on the Herndons demonstrated that all Blacks, regardless of class, were the victims of racial terrorism. Through the Herndons, issues of race, class, and color in turn-of-the-century Atlanta come into sharp focus. Their story is one of by-the-bootstraps resolve, tough compromises in the face of racism, and lasting contributions to their city and nation.

Author Notes

CAROLE MERRITT has served as director of the Herndon Home in Atlanta since 1983. She is author of Homecoming: African American Family History in Georgia.

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Alonzo F. Herndon was born into slavery in 1858. In 1927, he died a millionaire with a legacy that lives on today. Merritt, director of the Herndon Home, a historic site in Atlanta, chronicles Herndon's rise from slavery to sharecropping to barbering to the founding of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. The narrative also covers his two marriages and his relationship with his only child, Norris Bumstead Herndon. Photographs of family members and the Herndon home, businesses, and properties also make up a significant portion of the book. Merritt's telling of the Herndon story is informative but not critical; she doesn't place Herndon's unique story in a broader sociohistorical context. Herndon amassed his wealth catering to a white clientele and living relatively carefree in a white neighborhood at a time when lynching was a common occurrence and Jim Crow laws were established to prevent black advancement. What makes the Herndon family story so valuable today is that their experience is further evidence of how diverse the African American experience has been. Suitable for black studies collections and Georgia-area libraries. Sherri Barnes, Univ. of California Lib., Santa Barbara (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.