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Building Atlanta: How I Broke Through Segregation to Launch a Business Empire

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Born into a blue-collar family in the Jim Crow South, Herman J. Russell built a shoeshine business when he was twelve years old—and used the profits to buy a vacant lot where he built a duplex while he was still a teen. Over the next fifty years, he continued to build businesses, amassing one of the nation’s most profitable minority-owned conglomerates. In Building Atlanta, Born into a blue-collar family in the Jim Crow South, Herman J. Russell built a shoeshine business when he was twelve years old—and used the profits to buy a vacant lot where he built a duplex while he was still a teen. Over the next fifty years, he continued to build businesses, amassing one of the nation’s most profitable minority-owned conglomerates. In Building Atlanta, Russell shares his inspiring life story and reveals how he overcame racism, poverty, and a debilitating speech impediment to become one of the most successful African American entrepreneurs, Atlanta civic leaders, and unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. Not just a typical rags-to-riches story, Russell achieved his success through focus, planning, and humility, and he shares his winning advice throughout. As a millionaire builder before the civil rights movement took hold and a friend of Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, and Andrew Young, he quietly helped finance the civil rights crusade, putting up bond for protestors and providing the funds that kept King’s dream alive. He provides a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at the role the business community, both black and white working together, played in Atlanta’s peaceful progression from the capital of the racially divided Old South to the financial center of the New South.


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Born into a blue-collar family in the Jim Crow South, Herman J. Russell built a shoeshine business when he was twelve years old—and used the profits to buy a vacant lot where he built a duplex while he was still a teen. Over the next fifty years, he continued to build businesses, amassing one of the nation’s most profitable minority-owned conglomerates. In Building Atlanta, Born into a blue-collar family in the Jim Crow South, Herman J. Russell built a shoeshine business when he was twelve years old—and used the profits to buy a vacant lot where he built a duplex while he was still a teen. Over the next fifty years, he continued to build businesses, amassing one of the nation’s most profitable minority-owned conglomerates. In Building Atlanta, Russell shares his inspiring life story and reveals how he overcame racism, poverty, and a debilitating speech impediment to become one of the most successful African American entrepreneurs, Atlanta civic leaders, and unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. Not just a typical rags-to-riches story, Russell achieved his success through focus, planning, and humility, and he shares his winning advice throughout. As a millionaire builder before the civil rights movement took hold and a friend of Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy, and Andrew Young, he quietly helped finance the civil rights crusade, putting up bond for protestors and providing the funds that kept King’s dream alive. He provides a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at the role the business community, both black and white working together, played in Atlanta’s peaceful progression from the capital of the racially divided Old South to the financial center of the New South.

30 review for Building Atlanta: How I Broke Through Segregation to Launch a Business Empire

  1. 5 out of 5

    Keith Reed

    A solid biography of a man who did as much to shape the physical and business landscape of the City of Atlanta as MLK Jr. did for the city's legacy and Maynard Jackson did for its political establishment. Necessary if you want to have an understanding of the intersection of business and politics in this uniquely Southern city, or a fundamental understanding of the possibilities in life despite any limitations. A solid biography of a man who did as much to shape the physical and business landscape of the City of Atlanta as MLK Jr. did for the city's legacy and Maynard Jackson did for its political establishment. Necessary if you want to have an understanding of the intersection of business and politics in this uniquely Southern city, or a fundamental understanding of the possibilities in life despite any limitations.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    This was a quick and enjoyable read about one of Atlanta’s biggest names. While there are a few “business”nuggets in the book, this is really more of a biography and insight into the life of blacks in the segregated South. It traces Russell’s origins from shoeshine boy to retirement, leaving his 1300+ employee-company in the able hands of his children. It was also enjoyable to read about the origins of so many buildings familiar to anyone who lives in Atlanta that Russell had a hand in building.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Faust

    An amazing journey and insight into a silent but formidable man. He put hands, back and mind into building a legacy. Hard-work is the Hallmark of success. Reputation can only survive with sweat equity, laser focus on quality, and a mindful eye on the future. An amazing journey and insight into a silent but formidable man. He put hands, back and mind into building a legacy. Hard-work is the Hallmark of success. Reputation can only survive with sweat equity, laser focus on quality, and a mindful e An amazing journey and insight into a silent but formidable man. He put hands, back and mind into building a legacy. Hard-work is the Hallmark of success. Reputation can only survive with sweat equity, laser focus on quality, and a mindful eye on the future. An amazing journey and insight into a silent but formidable man. He put hands, back and mind into building a legacy. Hard-work is the Hallmark of success. Reputation can only survive with sweat equity, laser focus on quality, and a mindful eye on the future.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Lee

    Legacy This book is about Legacy. No matter what you go through in life you can succeed. God has changed the narrative in this man’s life with monuments of excellence. He still left a legacy of history for all to see.

  5. 5 out of 5

    DR

    What an amazing history of the great ATL and the role HJ had in its building. Great read!!!!!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andre Taylor-Domville

  7. 4 out of 5

    Huey Atticus

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sophie Newman

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Field

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rashon

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rodney

  12. 4 out of 5

    Greg

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lauri Tarkiainen

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

  15. 5 out of 5

    Fabian Elliott

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andre

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ed Brown

  18. 4 out of 5

    David Olatidoye

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dru

  20. 5 out of 5

    Garron G.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bob Andelman

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dede Dede

  23. 5 out of 5

    Dallas Hudgens

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bryant G

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bella

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jon

  27. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Green

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nding'A Muindi

  29. 4 out of 5

    Johnna Jae

  30. 5 out of 5

    John

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