Storied Black Atlanta company reemerging with help from Magic Johnson

Atlanta Life Insurance Company has a new owner and is looking at returning to the retail market

Former NBA player and business mogul Earvin “Magic” Johnson is breathing new life into the historic Atlanta Life Insurance Company nearly 120 years since it was first founded.

In 1905, Alonzo Herndon, a formerly enslaved man, started the company, which played a prominent role in Atlanta’s African American business and social scene. Atlanta Life had a major presence on Auburn Avenue in the 20th century and helped make Sweet Auburn into a thriving Black business corridor. Herndon was the first Black millionaire in Atlanta.

“Anytime a Black man can go from slavery to becoming a Black millionaire here in Atlanta, to become an entrepreneur, it’s a story that should be told and I’m glad that we’re able to take this historical brand and company and revitalize it, and really bring it back to the people of Georgia,” Johnson said at an event Monday in Buckhead.

Alonzo Herndon, born a slave, became Atlanta's first Black millionaire.

Credit: Courtesy Atlanta Life Insurance Company

icon to expand image

Credit: Courtesy Atlanta Life Insurance Company

Atlanta Life Insurance was acquired by Atlanta Life Holdings, an insurance holding company owned by a group of Black entrepreneurs and executives in January this year. Johnson is a beneficial owner of Atlanta Life and the nonprofit Herndon Foundation is a minority equity owner.

Johnson said he first learned about the storied Atlanta Life company through rapper Killer Mike. Now, Johnson’s life insurance company EquiTrust, which has $25.7 billion in assets, is rolling Atlanta Life into its portfolio, he said.

Atlanta Life’s prominence in the city has been on the decline for more than a decade. In 2010, it decided to sell its headquarters on Auburn Avenue and in 2012 it left the neighborhood altogether.

Atlanta Life Insurance Company building seen Monday, Nov. 8, 2021. (Daniel Varnado/ For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

icon to expand image

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Atlanta Life currently has $350 million in assets, according to Ryan Smith, executive vice president of the company. Over the past 15 years, Atlanta Life had been a provider of employee benefits for employers, but now with Johnson and EquiTrust, Smith plans to go back to the retail market as well as scale the employee benefits side of the business.

A who’s who of the Atlanta Black community came out to Buckhead on Monday to celebrate the reintroduction of Atlanta Life, from Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens to entertainment heavyweights like Kandi Burruss and Jermaine Dupri to prominent businesspeople like Pinky Cole and Paul Judge.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Report for America are partnering to add more journalists to cover topics important to our community. Please help us fund this important work at

About the Author