Heman Perry

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Photograph, Heman Perry, ca. 1920s

Heman Perry believed that economic development was the means to overcome the many barriers that existed for Black Americans. Although he came from humble beginnings and only had a seventh-grade education, he came to be known as the “commercial Booker Washington” and created one of the largest Black-owned companies in the nation: the Standard Life Insurance Company of Atlanta.  

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Broadside, Standard Life Insurance Company, The Journal of Negro History, January 1920

Founded in 1913, Standard Life was the first Black-owned legal reserve insurance company in Atlanta. By 1922, the company and all of its enterprises, which included the Citizens Trust Company and the Service Company, had $22 million in insurance and $2 million in assets. Perry’s role in the creation of the Washington Park neighborhood began with his purchase of old development plans for the area. The subsidiary companies under Standard Life provided a range of services during the development of Washington Park. The Citizens Trust Company of Atlanta, founded in 1921, helped to finance the majority of the residences constructed. The Service Company, founded in 1917, served as an umbrella company for 10 affiliated businesses and offered services that made Washington Park a comfortable and convenient place in which to live. 

Perry’s commitment to the Washington Park community spread thin the resources of his company. The Service Company offerings depleted the financial reserves of Standard Life. Faced with financial trouble in the mid-1920s, Standard Life stayed afloat with loans from white financiers, most notably Will Harris, the president of the Southern Insurance Company of Nashville. Eventually, Harris controlled the majority of the company’s stock. In 1925, Perry initiated a merger with the Southern Insurance Company, shifting his company to white ownership. This symbolized a departure from what the company stood for -- a company by Black people for Black people.  

Perry’s role in the creation of Washington Park and the advancement of the Black community in Atlanta was felt for generations. His professional accomplishments provided a blueprint that future entrepreneurs used to achieve success themselves.