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Neva Smith - Freedom & Resistance via Mutual Aid Funds

  • Broadcast in Culture
Gist of Freedom

Gist of Freedom


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The Gist of Freedom welcomes Neva Smith, retired Insurance executive! Church Benevolent Society's Angel Becomes the first black millionaire in the country 


Prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, Free Blacks formed Mutual Aid, self help,Benevolent Societies to collect money

as a means to ensure no one would become impoverished. They served as a primary weapon of  resistance. These societies  were the central mechanism for collecting and disbursing shared pool of wealth.


 Unfortunately, In Georgia, laws were passed to mandate the level of reserves that all insurance companies had to maintain and this was a major problem for many of these black burial associations.

A church benevolent society unable to meet the $5000 reserve  sought out Alonzo Herndon, a successful barber and a former slave, to buy them out.  Herndon  owned three very successful barber shops and he made a fortune from this trade which he invested heavily in real estate. His success in barbering was spectacular, he acquired more than 100 houses,

 His arrangement with the Church's benevolent society led Herndon to becoming the most successful black businessmen, the first black millionaire in the country and the founder of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company;  Today, Atlanta Life has assets of over $200 million and operates in 17 states. The Atlanta Life Insurance Company is the  largest black-owned stockholder insurance company in America.