Sweet Auburn Works provides a look into the legacy of Atlanta Life Insurance Company

Sweet Auburn Works provides a look into the legacy of Atlanta Life Insurance Company

Sweet Auburn Works (SAW) kicked off it’s first in a series of events and exhibitions about life on Auburn Avenue. The Atlanta Life Insurance Company (ALI) Windows Speak Project, a permanent exhibition, which is a visual narrative of the history of this company depicted in fifteen (15) windows of the original Atlanta Life Insurance Company office buildings located at 148 Auburn Avenue, the gateway to the Black business community in Atlanta.


Sweet Auburn Works (SAW) is leading the preservation-based resurgence in the Sweet Auburn district. SAW is a community-driven, economic development organization using innovative techniques to direct the revitalization in ways that are consistent with the avenue’s history, culture, legacy, and the current-day environment. Sweet Auburn has been designated a “National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  And Atlanta Life was strategically positioned where Peachtree meets Sweet Auburn.

In addition, SAW sparked the creation of the Historic District Development Corporation (HDDC) which was organized in 1980 as a neighborhood-based organization to rehabilitate and revitalize the residential and commercial property in the Sweet Auburn/Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic District; to restore the area to the economically diverse and viable community that once existed, while preventing displacement and maintaining its historic character. HDDC’s efforts have led to the development or rehabilitation of single-family housing, multi-family housing, commercial space and, most importantly, the revitalization of one of the most significant neighborhoods, not just in Atlanta, but in the country. With nearly one million visitors from across the nation and around the world coming to the Historic District, it was important that the organization’s work reflect the legacy of the neighborhood that nurtured Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the economic vibrancy that defined it. To learn more about HDDC and the organization’s current projects, please visit our website at www.hddc.org.

The original office buildings housed the business offices of Atlanta Life from 1920-1980 in the Sweet Auburn Historic District of the city. The Windows exhibition will emphasize the company’s legacy of leadership which includes entrepreneur and Founder /President Alonzo Franklin Herndon who became Atlanta’s first African American self-made millionaire and pioneered the company from its inception in 1905 until 1927; Norris Bumstead Herndon who served as president and led the business through periods

of explosive growth, profitability and community involvement from 1927 to 1973; and, Jesse Hill, Jr.,

who continued the tradition of business excellence and community service from 1973-1995.  Mr. Hill was president of Atlanta Life and also served as chairman of the board.


Mr. Hill’s administration continued into the era of the new Atlanta Life office building, located at the

corner of Courtland and Auburn, and was the gateway to the thriving Black business district from 1980 to

  1. Hill was vital and very effective through his prominence as a respected social activist who

established Atlanta Life as a cornerstone of civil rights activism in Atlanta and the southern region.

Henrietta Antonin, who served as the vice president of public relations, worked closely with Hill during

the time of the sit-in movement bailing out those who were arrested and incarcerated in jails throughout

Atlanta and surrounding areas in Georgia. Antoinin spent 46 years at this African American owned

and operated organization.  She was the face that welcomed the public to Atlanta Life, and she was deeply

involved in the politics and the arts of the city.


The three chief officers of Atlanta Life, Alonzo Herndon, Norris Herndon and Jesse Hill, were synonymous with the company’s brand during their terms, and they complete the basis for the content to be highlighted in the digital imagery in each window.  Portraits, group photographs, structures and other scenes will be visible to those who travel along Auburn Avenue between Courtland Street and Piedmont Avenue. Each image measures, roughly, 70 x 40 inches. These pieces of photographic art were created by the nationally acclaimed artist, Dr. Amalia Amaki; and the art will serve as reminders and a tribute to these leaders and the impact they made to Atlanta.


Other images in the exhibition include the following: Building one – the million-dollar ALI team,

ALI Department heads, Alonzo Herndon with Booker T. Washington, Alonzo Herndon with

DuBois at Niagara Falls, Norris and Adrienne Herndon; Building two – Helen Collins, former chairman

of the board; Edward L. Simon, former chairman of the board and former auditor; Henrietta Antoinin,

former vice president of public relations; and E. M. Martin, former senior vice president and CEO and

secretary of the board.


Amalia Amaki, creator of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company Windows Exhibition. Amaki is an artist, art historian, curator and writer.  Her credentials include a bachelor’s degrees from Georgia State University and the University of New Mexico; and a master’s degree and doctorate from Emory University in the Institute of Liberal Arts where she was a Foreign Study Fellow in France.  Dr. Amaki taught at Spelman and Morehouse Colleges, University of North Georgia, University of Delaware and University of Alabama.  She taught photography at Student Art Centers International (SACI) in Florence, Italy.  Her 30 years plus solo shows include a retrospective at the National Museum for Women in the Arts (Washington, DC) and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.  She was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in photography, artist grants from the Georgia Council for the Arts, Fulton County Arts Council and the City of Atlanta; and won commissions from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Valdosta State University, the 1996 Olympics, The High Museum of Art’s Creative Hearts Youth Art Community Quilt Project, and more.  Dr. Amaki has curated numerous exhibitions, most notably while she served as curator of the Paul R. Jones Art Collection.  She has published five books and written several catalog essays, articles and art related blogs.


Sweet Auburn Works was founded in 2012 by the Historic District Development Corporation, Central Atlanta Progress, and others, with technical assistance from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to lead the preservation-based economic resurgence of Sweet Auburn.  SAW is a non-profit community based economic development organization which uses innovative preservation techniques to direct the revitalization of Sweet Auburn in a way that is consistent with and sensitive to its history, culture, legacy, and the environment.

For more information on Sweet Auburn Works, visit our website at: www.sweetauburnworks.com.

Article written by Bunnie Jackson

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