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Beginning on the first of February each year, our nation spends the month honoring the history and contributions of African Americans. The theme for Black History Month 2018 is “African Americans in Times of War”, spotlighting the brave men and women who served their country in the armed forces, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice while protecting the American principles of freedom and democracy.
More than 2.5 million black men registered for the draft during World War II and one million served as draftees or volunteers in all branches of the armed forces. A majority of black men were assigned to segregated combat groups a decade before the American civil rights movement even started. Recognition of the African-American contribution to the war effort would eventually lay the foundation for the civil rights protests of the 1950s and 60s.
Alonzo Herndon was an African barber and entrepreneur who was also founder and president of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, one of the most successful black-owned businesses in the nation. He was distinguished for his involvement and support of local institutions and charities devoted to evolving African American business and community life. Although born into slavery, at the time of his death in 1927, Alonzo was Atlanta’s wealthiest black citizen, owning more property than any other African American.
John Merrick was also born into slavery and relied on his social knowledge, entrepreneurial spirit, and inner drive to achieve great personal affluence. He founded various companies, most notably the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. Through philanthropy, portions of his wealth were guided back into the black community. Merrick’s business insight and social awareness made him one of the most influential members of the African-American community in his lifetime.
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