The Herndons
An Atlanta Family

Carole Merritt

A compelling portrait of one of Atlanta's most prominent African American families


“Fascinating social detail . . . This handsome illustrated portrait is the result of twenty years of interviews and archival study.”
Wall Street Journal

“The first biography of the family that set the mold for black achievement in Atlanta.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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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 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.

Page count: 272 pp.
Trim size: 8 x 10

Read more about Alonzo Herndon at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.


List price: $34.95

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Carole Merritt is a former director of the historic Herndon Home in Atlanta. She is author of Homecoming: African American Family History in Georgia.