Founders Day 2018: Happy Birthday to Alonzo Herndon

Today in History… is the 160th birthday of our namesake, Alonzo Franklin Herndon. Born into slavery on June 26, 1858 in Social Circle Georgia, Mr. Herndon’s Legacy lives on into 2018. The Alonzo F. and Norris B. Herndon Foundation operate out of basement offices located within the Herndon Home Museum, where we work every day to advance the Herndon Legacy through educating, mentoring and equipping the next generation of entrepreneurs. On this day, in memorial of our founder and in celebration of the awe-inspiring and admirable qualities of his life we honor Mr. Herndon’s living legacy as immortalized by the Herndon Home Museum and the Herndon Game Changer Youth Entrepreneurship program.

Born into the institution of slavery, it is hard for anyone to imagine the mindset of a young Alonzo Herndon. While we know that following emancipation in 1865 Alonzo worked as a sharecropper and, like young children even today, sold small items like peanuts, axle grease, and honey molasses roadside, we do not know the private battle that must have waged in his mind in his decision to leave his family and travel to Atlanta to create his future. Building a life as an African American man during the period of American reconstruction surely took courage and hard-work, characteristics Mr. Herndon undoubtedly modeled as a husband and father. However the entrepreneurial spirit means more than this, it also meant the display of innovation, audacity and service leadership. Recurring themes throughout his life, Mr. Herndon opened his first barber shop in 1886, creating the opportunity for him to invest in multiple business ventures centered in the needs of his African American community. His most notable venture was the purchase of the Atlanta Benevolent and Protective Association of Wheat street baptist church in 1905 which he ultimately transformed into the largest stockholder insurance corporation owned by African Americans. This business venture was among the first of its kind, an outgrowth of the benevolent societies catering to low and moderate-income African Americans, and the investment served Mr. Herndon well – the firm outlived its founder and is still in business today as Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the Flagship for Atlanta Life Financial Group located in the 191 Building on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. Alonzo Herndon’s personal and professional achievements reflect his determination to succeed and value of careful, conscientious work – an entrepreneurial legacy the Herndon Foundation is dedicated to preserving and continuing.

The Herndon Home was first built in 1908-1910 and opened to the public in 1984. The Herndon Home Museum and the artifacts within serve as a significant and remarkable symbolism of the life and legacy of Alonzo Franklin Herndon, as an example of the tradition of racial solidarity and self-help that epitomized the period of reconstruction. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000, the museum collection is as exceptional and varied as the Herndon Family members that called it home, and includes a range of antiquities from Ancient Greek decorative pots dating from 600 BC and Egyptian figurines from 3000 BC to a large archival collection of photographs and paper documents. These artifacts and papers tell the stories of the private lives of an upper-class black family following the American period of reconstruction through Jim Crow and Segregation, and later the Civil Rights Movement. Today, while visitors to the museum during our regular operating hours receive 45-minute guided tours of the Home, only a select few are permitted to host events and receptions and experience the opulence of the Herndon Mansion.  Regardless of how one experiences the Herndon Home Museum our guest always leave with a valuable appreciation of how rarefied a life the Herndon’s lived during these turbulent times in African American History. However, it is the foundations of educational programming which serves to provide a tactile and applied reference for local youth.

The Herndon Game Changer Entrepreneurship Training program started in 2013 as an effort of the Herndon Foundation to champion the legacy of Alonzo Herndon by strengthening the entrepreneurial spirit in our communities. By encouraging young people to stay in school, recognize business opportunities, and plan for successful futures we believe that our students can find within themselves opportunities to build wealth and learn the skills to elevate themselves, their families, and communities. This is the function of Game Changer, a two-year program that combines training and practical exposure to the various elements of entrepreneurship with hands-on, active mentorship from vested businesses and community stakeholders. To date we have graduated over 50 students, gifting our college-bound students with valuable professional experience as well as over $40,000 in scholarships and technology. As we continue to build and expand our program we are confident the Game Changer program is a valuable community resource that supports the development of innovation ready youth prepared to own their futures.

However it is on the foundation of sacrifice, persistence, and discipline laid by former slave and our namesake, Alonzo Franklin Herndon that we continue his legacy of achievement. The Herndon Foundation is proud to continually serve Mr. Herndon and share his story of struggle endured, and courage proved in his journey from emancipated slave to business leader and a sterling example of the entrepreneurial spirit.