Celebrating life on Auburn Avenue, Atlanta’s historic Black business community, Sweet Auburn Works (SAW) presented its first in a series of events and exhibitions about life on the Avenue.

Through a visual narrative, the Atlanta Life Insurance Company Windows Speak Project depicts the history of the company in 15 windows of the original Atlanta Life Insurance Company office buildings located at 148 Auburn Avenue; considered the gateway to the Black business community in Atlanta.

Atlanta Life Insurance Company’s original office building housed the business’ offices from 1920-1980.

The leading the preservation-based resurgence, Sweet Auburn Works 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.

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.

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, 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 Atlanta Life team, 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.

The Window Speaks exhibition kicked off on May 2 and will remain a permanent addition to the façade of the historic buildings.

The Atlanta Life original historic building predates the company itself, having been constructed before the 1900’s. (Courtesy of Sweet Auburn Works)

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