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Thu, 07.15.1897

Norris Herndon, Insurance Businessman born

Norris Herndon

*Norris Herndon was born on this date in 1897. He was a Black businessman and philanthropist.

Born in Atlanta, Norris Bumstead Herndon was the only child of millionaire businessman Alonzo F. Herndon and Adrienne McNeil Herndon. Herndon and his family, light-complexioned African Americans, could each "pass" for white, easily blending into Atlanta's white community. When Herndon was 13, his father built an illustrious Beaux Arts Classical home with 15 rooms in the Vine City neighborhood on Diamond Hill near Morris Brown College. Four months after Herndon and his family moved into their new home, his mother died unexpectedly in 1910.

Herndon graduated high school at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) in 1915. He also attended college at Atlanta University, graduating in 1919. Herndon attended Harvard University, graduating in 1921 with a master's degree in business administration. Herndon was only one of two blacks in his Harvard MBA graduating class. After graduation from Harvard, Herndon joined the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. He worked as a cashier and Atlanta Life's First Vice President. Herndon helped his father Alonzo navigate difficult times, including the devastating 1918 Spanish flu epidemic and the murderous Tulsa Massacre of 1921, which burdened the company with death and sickness claims. When his father died in 1927, Norris Herndon became Atlanta Life Insurance Company's second president at 28.

His stepmother, Jessie Gillespie Herndon joined him as Atlanta Life Insurance Corporation's vice president. In his will, Alonzo left split his fortune between Norris and Alonzo's widow and 2nd wife, Jessie Gillespie Herndon, with the provision that Jessie's half goes to Norris at her death. After she died in 1947, Herndon created the Alonzo F. and Norris B. Herndon Foundation. The foundation also maintains "the Herndon Home." It transformed into a museum in 1973. The Herndon Home was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2000. In 1948, Herndon bequeathed land and funded Atlanta University to construct Herndon Stadium, a sports facility. Under Herndon's leadership, the Atlanta Life Insurance Company held the first insurance policy for Martin Luther King Jr.

Herndon was extraordinarily reclusive. Herndon rarely spoke publicly, avoiding appearances at national conventions or on society pages. Herndon regularly funded the solvency of many civil rights efforts, including the NAACP, United Negro College Fund, Phyllis Wheatley YMCA, Atlanta University, Morris Brown College, First Congregational Church in Atlanta, and the National Urban League. Under Herndon, the Atlanta Life Insurance Company grew from $1 million when his father passed in 1927 to $84 million in assets at the time of Herndon's retirement in 1973. Atlanta Life is recently valued at around $250 million.

Norris Herndon died at home on June 7, 1977, after a heart attack. Under Norris Herndon, the Atlanta Life Insurance Company grew from $1 million at the time of his father's death in 1927 to $84 million in assets at the time of Herndon's retirement in 1973. It is currently valued at around $250 million, operating today as the Atlanta Life Financial Group.

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