Year founded: 1905
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Type of business: Life insurance
Bottom line: Alonzo Herndon, the founder of Atlanta Life Insurance Company, was born into slavery in Walton County, Georgia, in 1858 and freed after the Civil War. He took up odd jobs as a young child to earn money while his family worked as sharecroppers in Social Circle, about 45 miles east of Atlanta.
At the age of 20, he set out on his own with $11 in his pocket, working as a farmhand and learning barbering. He opened his first barbershop in Jonesboro, Georgia, then moved to Atlanta in 1882 and opened three upscale barbershops in the city.
As he accumulated wealth, he purchased real estate, becoming the wealthiest Black man in Atlanta. In 1905, Herndon purchased a burial association for $140 and two other insurance companies, which he then merged into Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Herndon became the first Black millionaire in Atlanta and one of the first Black millionaires in the entire country.
Atlanta Life Insurance was a key financial institution during the Jim Crow and pre-Civil Rights era, offering low-cost insurance to Black Americans.