Alonzo Herndon: Biography & Explanation

Instructor: Brian Muhammad
Many Americans want to live the 'American Dream.' Alonzo Herndon, a former slave, made his American dream come true through entrepreneurship and became the first black millionaire in Atlanta. In this lesson, learn more about the life and history of Alonzo Herndon.

Humble Beginnings

Herndon with mother and brother
Herndon Family

In 1858, Alonzo Franklin Herndon was born into slavery in Walton County. His mother, Sophenie Herndon, was a slave and his father, Frank Herndon, was her master on a farm in Social Circle, GA. Alonzo's grandparents and younger brother, Thomas, along with over twenty other slaves worked on the Herndon Farm. After the Civil War in 1865, Alonzo and his family left the farm with only a few quilts. His mother found work nearby and worked during the day. However, due to the recent decline of the southern economy, she was paid by molasses, potatoes and other rations, barely enough to feed her family. Alonzo and his family eventually returned back to the Herndon Farm and participated in sharecropping, where they received meager wages.


At an early age, Alonzo exercised his entrepreneurial spirit. He would make extra money by selling homemade molasses, peanuts and axle grease. By living in the least sustainable conditions, Alonzo was able to save $11 by the age of twenty and leave the farm to seek better opportunities. With only about a year of education, Alonzo left Social Circle on foot and walked to Coweta County, 76 miles away. Along the way, Alonzo worked on various farms, and he learned the barber trade.

Eventually, he made his way to a town called Jonesboro, not far from Atlanta, GA, where he opened his first barbershop. He lived and operated his business there for several years, but decided to relocate to Atlanta in 1883 for more opportunities.

Alonzo was hired as a barber at a local Atlanta barbershop on Marietta Street. After about 6 months of working, he purchased half of the business and became a partner with the owner. Within a decade, Alonzo had opened 3 barbershops of his own located in downtown Atlanta. One of these, called the Crystal Palace, was located on 66 Peachtree Street and gained a reputation as the most magnificent barbershop in Atlanta. The shop was lavishly decorated with crystal chandeliers and marble floors. The Crystal Palace serviced only white clientele due to the segregation laws. Herndon and his staff serviced the business elite, such as politicians, top lawyers, judges, doctors and businessmen.

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