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BUILDING ATLANTA by Herman J. Russell


How I Broke Through Segregation to Launch a Business Empire

by Herman J. Russell ; Bob Andelman

Pub Date: April 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61374-694-3
Publisher: Chicago Review

The lifelong journey from shoeshine boy to construction mogul.

Born in Atlanta in 1930, Russell was no stranger to hard work. From the age of 6, he tended his family's chickens; when he turned 8, he had a paper route; by 11, he was mixing mortar for his father's plastering company. "The truth is that I always wanted to work,” he writes. “Everyone I knew and respected worked, and worked hard." From those earliest moments, Russell, who wrote this book with the assistance of veteran business writer Andelman (Why Men Watch Football—A Report from the Couch, 2013, etc.), knew the key to success was to consistently strive to do his best. He broke racial barriers while segregation was still deeply entrenched in the South and established a construction company that built everything from apartment buildings to airports. He used his hard-earned money and astute business sense to help those at the forefront of the civil rights movement by providing much-needed monetary funds and behind-the-scenes support for Martin Luther King Jr. and others. Seeing there was a lack of bankers willing to support blacks, Russell branched out to provide banking and insurance for his community in Atlanta and eventually was invited to join the all-white chamber of commerce. One venture and connection fed into another, with Russell understanding the importance of networking long before it was hip to do so. "I'm often asked how I could have owned a portfolio of almost two thousand rental units, a property management company, and an insurance agency before the age of forty,” he writes. He honestly admits he was judicious with his spending and always reinvested in the company before allowing himself personal luxuries. Family and friends played an important role in Russell's life, as well, and his memories of fond moments are interspersed throughout the story of the rise of his successful businesses.

A candid, straightforward account of one man and his rise from rags to riches.