In the year 2017, Henrietta Antoinin and I live in the same neighborhood. We are dear friends – connected in spirit. We’ve seen some good time, and some bad times; but the good times outweigh the bad times and we don’t complain – too much. More importantly, we share the love for Blue Bell Black Walnut Ice Cream, politics, and good jazz and gospel music; and can talk for hours on who should be the next mayor or city councilman in our district. . She is a doer, a mover and shaker; someone to call on when everyone else says no. The history is in our friendship!
Henrietta Phillips Antoinin – A Woman to be Reckoned With!
By Bunnie Jackson-Ransom (written in April 2010)
If you come to Atlanta, or have come through Atlanta anytime during the last 40 years or so, you must know Henrietta Phillips Antoinin – or you certainly would know about her. She is truly a woman to be reckoned with and she has left her mark on Atlanta and its leadership.
For most of her adult live, Henrietta was the face of Atlanta Life Insurance Company (Atlanta Life Financial Group). No, she was not the president of the company; but she was their most powerful weapon in the Atlanta community. As a member of their senior management team, she directed the image of Atlanta Life, the nation’s largest African American stock-owned life insurance company. Some would say, she created the image of the company. She was the voice of Atlanta Life and the social conscience for the organization.
At the direction of Jesse Hill, the president of Atlanta Life from 1973 to 1992, Ms. Antoinin implemented an Atlanta city-wide voter registration program in 1962 that registered at least one hundred thousand African Americans – before the Voter Education Project. “Spending many hours a day, between 7 and 10 p.m., at several high schools such as David T. Howard, Washington High, Carver High and Turner High, was the norm. We were some of the first Black people to become deputy registrars.” said Ms Antoinin. “We used Black radio to encourage our people to get registered and we helped those who registered with their voter test – they had to read aloud a paragraph of non-related information,” she continued. As we look back on this undertaking and the success of getting Blacks on the voter rolls, I do believe that this effort was one of the pieces that elected Maynard Jackson mayor of this city.
Henrietta Antoinin coordinated Atlanta Life’s impressive art competition and exhibition. Because Black artists were locked out of many museums and national art competitions, she spear-headed this nationally renowned contest that gave Black artists a stage to exhibit their art and a cash prize for their work. Using judges such as Jacob Lawrence, David Driskell, Richard Long, and Elizabeth Catlett, this project gained in prestige and launched the careers of many Black artists. As Curator of this exhibition, she is directly responsible for the multi-million dollar art collection that hangs in the lobby of Atlanta Life Financial Group to this day. This exhibition was the inspiration and the foundation for the National Black Arts Festival that is currently held in Atlanta.
She recently retired from the position of vice president of public relations for Atlanta Life Financial Group. I didn’t think she would do it and I told her so. After all she’s got too much to do; she has too much energy to retire; and she’s got lots to say. But she said to me, “Bunnie, I love Atlanta Life; I’ve felt a lot of love from this institution. I’ve worked with all of the presidents of this company with the exception of the founder, Mr. Herndon. But now it’s time for someone else . . . One has to know when enough is enough.”
Even though Atlanta Life was known for “Henrietta Antoinin,” it did not define her. This wonderful, dynamic, intelligent, productive, God-fearing woman is so much more. She is certainly one of Atlanta’s history makers.
As an active member of the Atlanta community, she served on Executive Committee of the Atlanta Branch of the NAACP for many years; and in this position, she has chaired the Annual Freedom Fund Dinner (now known as the Jondelle Johnson Freedom Fund Dinner) on more than one occasion raising needs funds to keep the Atlanta Branch open and viable. Henrietta chaired the organization’s annual membership campaign and brought the branch’s membership to the some of its largest member numbers. In 2001, the Atlanta Branch of the NAACP honored Ms. Antoinin with the Jondelle Johnson Leadership Award.
Her service to Atlanta has not gone without notice for she has received many honors and tributes. Too many to mention, some of her accolades include the following: Dollars and Sense Magazine named her one of America’s top 100 Black Business & Professional Women; Ebony Magazine named her one of the 100 Most Promising Black Corporate Women; and the Atlanta Business League named her to their Hall of Fame and has consistently listed her as one of Atlanta’s Women of Influence.
Ms. Antoinin was appointed by Governor Roy Barnes as Commissioner for the Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday. She was the Vice Chair of the Democratic Party Coordinating Committee. She served as a trustee of the Gates City Day Nursery Foundation and on the Board of Directors of the American Association of Insurance Professionals. The Butler Street YMCA has benefited from Henrietta’s dedicated service on its Board for many years – especially with their aggressive membership campaigns; she chaired their Board of Directors for three years. She was the founding president of the Atlanta Political Congress for Black Women where Shirley Chisholm was the national chair.
Ms. Antoinin is a member of the Georgia Coalition of Black Women, and is on the board of the Atlanta Rainbow PUSH Coalition Wall Street Project. Active in the Atlanta political scene, Henrietta is usually sought after for her advice and support by Georgia Governors, and Atlanta’s mayors.
A native Atlantan, Henrietta was educated at E.R. Carter Elementary School, Washington High School and Clark College. As she began her career, she really wanted to sing. “I used to go to Mount Moriah Baptist Church and sing with Gladys Knight; I really wanted to be an entertainer and sing in a night club,” said Henrietta. But there was a different calling for her; she was destined to be an activist – a “minister” who carries the banner to aid and assist others. Such is the story she tells about her participation in the civil rights marches around Riches Department Store and her visit to WSB TV, when she, Jesse, and Jondelle interceded on behalf of the career of Monica Kaufman (Pearson). Henrietta was always on the case!
A fifth generation member of Friendship Baptist Church (on Mitchell Street), Henrietta was baptized by the Reverend Maynard Jackson, Sr. when he was her pastor. She and her family, her daughter and two granddaughters, continue to worship at Friendship and she is a contralto soloist in the senior choir.
What’s next for my dear friend, Henrietta Antoinin? We’ll just have to wait and see. Whatever it is, it is going to be great. She is a great lady – one for the history books.