Herman J. Russell (b. 1930)
Herman Jerome Russell was born to Maggie Googson and Rogers Russell in Atlanta on December 23, 1930. Russell, the youngest of eight children, grew up in the Summerhill neighborhood, near Turner Field. Before attending David T. Howard High School, Russell worked odd jobs for his father, a plasterer who instilled in Russell an ethic of hard work and prudence. After graduating from high school, Russell worked and, later, earned a degree in building construction from the Tuskegee Institute (later Tuskegee University) in Alabama.
In 1953 Russell returned to Atlanta to begin his career. Three years later he married Otelia Hackney, a native of Union Point in Greene County, who had graduated from Clark College (later Clark Atlanta University) and taught at the Georgia Avenue School (later the Peter James Bryant Elementary School). The couple eventually had three children.
While a sophomore in high school, Russell purchased his first property, which he later developed and leveraged to pay his college tuition.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Russell's construction empire grew and diversified, paralleling the changing racial status quo of African Americans. Russell's track record of successful joint partnerships on large-scale projects with white-owned construction companies bolstered his business reputation across public and private sectors. During this period Russell owned several construction and real estate companies, among them H. J. Russell and Company, H. J. Russell Construction Company, H. J. Russell Plastering Company, Paradise Management Inc., DDR International, and Southeast Land Development Company.
In 1994 Russell's construction businesses were reorganized under H. J. Russell and Company. During this time, the company reported annual sales estimated at $150 million, with project offices in several cities from Miami, Florida, to New York City. Today, the Atlanta-based H. J. Russell and Company is a nationally recognized leader in the construction and real estate development industry, as well as the single largest Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) real estate firm in the United States.
Business, Civic, and Community Leadership
Russell has served on the boards of numerous business, civic, and community organizations, among them the Citizens Trust Bank, Central Atlanta Progress, the Butler Street YMCA, the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Allen Temple African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, and the Business Council of Georgia. His dedication to entrepreneurship and education is exemplified through his philanthropy. In 1999 Russell pledged $4 million to expand educational programs in entrepreneurship at Clark Atlanta University, Georgia State University (GSU), and Morehouse College, all in Atlanta, as well as at Tuskegee University.
In December 2009 Russell's family donated $1 million to expand a new facility of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding. The Otelia and Herman Russell Lobby in the new building honors this gift. The Herman J. Russell Sr. International Center for Entrepreneurship at GSU's J. Mack Robinson College of Business is also named in Russell's honor.
Several organizations, among them the Black Business Association of Los Angeles (California) and Junior Achievement of Atlanta, have recognized Russell's business and civic contributions. In 1991 he received the Horatio Alger Award, an honor recognizing dedicated community leaders who demonstrate individual initiative and a commitment to excellence.
Derek T. Dingle, Black Enterprise Titans of the B.E. 100s: Black CEOs Who Redefined and Conquered American Business (New York: J. Wiley, 1999).
Robert L. Harris Jr. and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, eds., The Columbia Guide to African American History since 1939 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006).
John N. Ingham and Lynne B. Feldman, African-American Business Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994).
Jessie Carney Smith, ed.; Millicent Lownes Jackson and Linda T. Wynn, cons., Encyclopedia of African American Business (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006).
Wesley Chenault, Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.