Jesse Hill (b. 1927)
Jesse Hill, one
Jesse Hill Jr. was born in 1927 in St. Louis, Missouri, to Nancy Dennis Martin and Jesse Hill. He attended public schools in St. Louis and graduated from Lincoln University in St. Louis with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics in 1947. He received his MBA from the University of Michigan in 1949.
From the beginning, Hill's professional and civil rights activities were closely intertwined. His career in business began in 1949 when he moved to Atlanta, the center of African American entrepreneurship in the United States during the mid-twentieth century. He joined the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, one of the country's largest and most successful black-owned businesses, as assistant actuary; he was only the second African American actuary in the country. When he first moved to the city, Hill lived at the Butler Street YMCA in Atlanta, the headquarters of the city's black leadership during the period. He also volunteered for both the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). During his first two decades with Atlanta Life, Hill became vice president and the chief actuary of the company. In 1973 he was elected president and chief executive officer, becoming the company's third president and the first not to be a family member of Alonzo Herndon, Atlanta Life's founder. During Hill's tenure as chief executive, Atlanta Life experienced its most impressive period of growth since its founding, and its total assets, revenues, profits, and shareholder value all surpassed previous levels.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Hill used his position as a leader in Atlanta's black business community to promote civil rights in Georgia and Alabama. In 1960 Hill, along with other young black leaders
Hill's company was also involved in progressive activities to help the black community across the South. During the 1950s and 1960s, Hill raised money from employees at Atlanta Life and donated the money to Martin Luther King Jr.'s efforts to promote civil rights. Hill also encouraged employees to donate their time in support of the civil rights cause. Atlanta Life's Montgomery office even employed Rosa Parks as a secretary during the Montgomery bus boycott, which she sparked.
Hill and Atlanta Life Insurance Company are also given credit for increasing African American access to affordable home-mortgage financing in Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and Florida. Furthermore, Hill organized successful voter registration drives in Atlanta throughout the late 1960s and 1970s. His organizational efforts helped register approximately 50,000 new African American voters in Atlanta.
In 1977 Hill became the chairman of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, where he continued to work on bridge building between the African American and white communities. Hill ran political campaigns for Maynard Jackson, who became the first black mayor of Atlanta, as well as for congressman and later United Nations ambassador Andrew Young.
Throughout a long, successful business career, Hill also served on the boards of directors for eight major U.S. corporations, including Knight Ridder, Delta Air Lines, National Services Industries, and SunTrust, and was a founding director of MARTA, Atlanta's public transportation system. He has also served as the chairman of the board of directors for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center in Atlanta.
Alexa Benson Henderson, A Twentieth Century Black Enterprise: The Atlanta Life Insurance Company, 1905-1975 (Ph.d. diss., Georgia State University, 1975).
William Schemmel, "Profile: Jesse Hill Jr.," Atlanta Magazine, January 1971.
Barton Myers, Texas Tech University, Lubbock
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