Remembering Jesse Hill Jr.



Jesse Hill, Jr. was a pioneer among businessmen for over 40 years breaking down barriers for black businessmen and women. His contributions are many. Unafraid to step into the void created by decades of segregation and discrimination Hill seized opportunities out of America’s troubled past. He played an active role in changing the business landscape of Atlanta. In recent years he has been rarely heralded for his business and civic leadership, though he earned his stripes as a civic and political activist during the rough political transition years of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

It is increasingly known that the leadership of Atlanta adopted sweeping and bold economic development policies in municipal government to expand business and job opportunities when the first African American mayor, Maynard Jackson, Jr. was elected. The contributions of others during this period of Atlanta history are rarely discussed. Hill’s legacy includes fighting for equality in business opportunity, challenging the status quo and championing equal rights as a business and civic leader.

When you think of Atlanta as a progressive city among its peers for its social, political and business policies or when you marvel at the rapid transformation of Atlanta into a global business center credit the hard, risky work of Hill and his generation of leaders. They believed in the American Dream and fought for Atlanta to become a city that was willing to make that dream a reality for everyone.

Jesse Hill, Jr. the former CEO of Atlanta Life Insurance, who died at 86 on yesterday advised mayors, governors, civic and business leaders and served as a bridge between the black and white communities sometimes at the peril of being misunderstood. He charted his professional life as a champion of equal business opportunity for minority, female and small businesses. He understood that without equal economic rights those locked out of the mainstream economy would never fully realize their civil rights.

Like others of his generation the young political leadership of the 1970’s was unsettling but he never questioned the value of advocacy for economic rights. Many will talk about his role in civil rights in Atlanta during the tumultuous times of the 1960’s or as a key supporter of Mrs. Coretta Scott King and the creation, launch of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change, his role as a mediator in the desegregation of public schools and the state university system. I will fondly remember Jesse Hill Jr. for his creative ideas and endless energy, his early morning calls, his five-minute civic lectures and his valued leadership in all matters that made a huge and lasting difference in the transformation of Atlanta into a racially integrated, influential 21st century American city.


  1. Ruth Woodling says:

    Atlanta has been blessed with bridge builders, and Jesse Hill, Jr. was at the forefront. It’s ironic that flgures such as he are often not widely recognized for the major contributions they’ve made until they leave us.

  2. Thank you for posting this story on Jesse Hill. It is so vitally important that the rich heritage and legacy of Atlanta’s significant trailblazers be never forgotten! We are all on this earth but for a blip of a minute. It has always intrigued me as to the inner drive, compassion, and contributions of those like Jesse Hill that quietly do some much to enrich the lives of others! May he never be forgotten!