‘Building Atlanta: The Story of Herman J. Russell’ Documentary Premiers on ATL PBA During Black History Month

“Herman Russell not only left his mark on the skyline of his home town; he helped to make real the legacy of a city too busy to hate.”

ATLANTA (Feb. 3, 2020) – ‘Building Atlanta: The Story of Herman J. Russell’, a documentary film about the inspiring life and legacy of Atlanta businessman and founder of one of the country’s largest black-owned commercial real estate development and construction firms, premiers on ATL PBA on Sunday, February 16, 2020 at 9 p.m. and will re-air on February 23, 2020 at 7 p.m. The nearly hour-long film took more than a year to produce, featuring interviews with notable Atlantans who knew Herman J. Russell well. Here is a 60 second trailer of the film.

“For our family, having our father’s and grandfather’s story told through the eyes and words of those who knew him best is a particularly impactful approach the filmmakers use,” said Herman J. Russell’s son, Michael B. Russell, CEO, H. J. Russell & Company. “As humble as he was, I think he would enjoy seeing what his friends had to say about him in addition to seeing his life story on television. He would hope this documentary will inspire people, particularly young people, to strive even harder to reach their personal potential against all odds, and that’s what we hope it does too.”

Herman J. Russell, the founder of Atlanta-based H. J. Russell & Company and Concessions International, LLC, is known for helping build the Atlanta skyline as we see it today as well as for shaping the airport dining experience for travelers throughout the country and the U. S. Virgin Islands since 1952 and 1979 respectively. However, his beginnings were humble. The Great Depression was a challenging time for most Americans, but particularly for a young African-American boy who was born in 1930 in the segregated South. As early as the age of 8, Herman J. Russell was inspired to build and own real estate, and to be his own employer. Through watching his father run his own plastering business, and feeling the urgency and necessity to create jobs during the hard economic times, his entrepreneurial spirit was born and lasted throughout his life until his passing in 2014.       

            “Our family felt it was important to document the legacy of our family patriarch in film for generations to enjoy and be inspired by, as we were all of our lives,” said Herman J. Russell’s daughter, Donata Russell Ross, CEO, Concessions International, LLC. “We’ve always been proud of our father’s accomplishments, but to see his life illustrated so beautifully in this film is so rewarding for our entire family. We are grateful ATL PBA was supportive and interested in sharing his story with a larger audience.”

‘Building Atlanta: The Story of Herman J. Russell’ documentary, is produced, written, edited and directed, in coordination with the Russell family, and for ATL PBA, by Emmy Award-winning father and son team, David and John Duke of Living Stories Film & Video. “John and I met Mr. Russell in his later years, when we interviewed him for our documentary on former City of Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen,” said Duke. “Of his many qualities, the one that stood out the most was his warmth. As we worked on Mr. Russell’s own story, we quickly saw that he built more than buildings: The relationships he formed with Atlanta’s white business community became lasting friendships. The trust and confidence he inspired enabled a new generation of Black entrepreneurs to move into the mainstream. Herman Russell not only left his mark on the skyline of his home town; he helped to make real the legacy of a city too busy to hate.” 

In the documentary, the voices of Herman J. Russell’s proteges are heard, along with business partners who witnessed first-hand his challenges of the times. For example, Robert “Bob” Holder, Founder and Chairman of Holder Construction, expressed, “Herman and I were born within a month of each other, and within three miles of each other, but the two worlds could not have been more different. Everything I was born into was designed to make sure I succeeded; everything he was born into was designed to be sure he did not succeed. And Herman, in his lifetime, overcame all of that.”  

As a lasting legacy to Herman J. Russell, the Russell family has created the Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, designed to encourage and support generations of entrepreneurs, especially Black entrepreneurs, as he did throughout his life. “The documentary is the inspirational back story on which the Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (RCIE) is being created,” said Herman J. Russell’s son and namesake, H. Jerome Russell, Jr., Chairman of the Board, RCIE. “We want current and aspiring entrepreneurs to come to RCIE to reach their potential as entrepreneurs, and this film will help our members understand the legacy and foundation on which RCIE is built.”

Building Atlanta: The Story of Herman J. Russell is airing exclusively on ATL PBA and will share it as part of its education outreach initiatives. “We are deeply honored to be the platform on which people in Atlanta and beyond will learn more about the man, Mr. Herman J. Russell, who truly helped inspire and shape not only Atlanta’s skyline, but also an integrated, partnering workforce,” said Wonya Lucas, President and CEO, Public Broadcasting Atlanta. “For those familiar with his legacy, and for those who are not, we encourage you to tune in to learn more about a person who defied many odds to achieve his dreams and inspired a city, a state and a country in many different ways.”

After the second airing on ATL PBA on February 23, the full documentary will be hosted on H. J. Russell & Company’s YouTube channel, and eventually on pba.org.


David Hughes Duke and John Duke of “Living Stories Video & Film” are Emmy Award-winning filmmakers and natives of Atlanta. Their other films include “Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr.: A Different Road,” “The Wise Heart: The Story of Emory University,” “One Law for All: The Story of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society,” and “The Story of Hope and Will: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.” For more about Living Stories, visit livingstories.tv.


Public Broadcasting Atlanta is a nonprofit organization comprised of the award-winning NPR radio affiliate WABE 90.1FM, Atlanta’s PBS station, ATL PBA, and the cultural events destination AtlantaPlanIt. PBA is a service of Atlanta Public Schools in partnership with Atlanta Educational Telecommunications Collaborative (AETC). We are dedicated to bringing Atlanta the very best news and entertainment programming, helping foster life-long learners and connecting our audience to their community as we celebrate the spirit of our great city together. Visit pba.org to learn more about ATL PBA.


Founded in 1952, H. J. Russell & Company is one of the largest minority-owned construction services and real estate development firms in the United States. A multi-faceted organization providing integrated solutions and an exceptional customer experience, Russell has developed, designed/built, renovated, and managed some of the nation’s most complex, high profile projects involving multiple stakeholders and requiring exceptional diplomacy and skill, including the Mercedes-Benz Stadium with the HHRM JV and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture with Clark Construction and Smoot Construction. Today, the company is at number 25 on the BE Top 100 list. Visit hjrussell.com to learn more about the firm.


Atlanta-based Concessions International, LLC, founded in 1979, is a dynamic food and beverage concessionaire with operations in eight airports. The company’s portfolio includes franchised, licensed and proprietary concepts, including casual dining, quick service, snack, deli and bar and grill. The company is a franchisee of major national brands including Chick-fil-A, Shake Shack, Panda Express and Einstein Bros. Bagels. Visit cintl.com for more information. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram


Betsy Helgager Hughes

BLH Consulting, Inc.
for The Russell Family