On your next Delta Air Lines flight, if equipped with seatback in-flight entertainment, you’ll have the opportunity to view ‘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, H. J. Russell & Company. Delta is bringing the film onboard as part of all new content on Delta Studio, its in-flight entertainment platform, beginning this month. The nearly hour-long film features interviews with notable Atlantans who knew Herman J. Russell well. Here is a 60-second trailer of the film.
“As Atlanta natives, we pride ourselves on telling stories of some of the most consequential figures in our city’s and state’s history through film, and it was particularly rewarding to be able to create a documentary about an Atlanta icon who quietly and fearlessly did so much to help create the Atlanta we know today,” said co-director, David Duke of Living Stories Film & Video. “We are excited to have, for the first time in our filmmaking history, a film that Delta customers will get to see and learn about the amazing life and legacy of Herman J. Russell, one of Atlanta’s most prolific business leaders who truly helped inspire and shape not only Atlanta’s skyline, but also helped integrate a multicultural, partnering workforce in our hometown.”
Herman J. Russell, who founded Atlanta-based H. J. Russell & Company in 1952 and Concessions International, LLC, in 1979, is known for helping to build the Atlanta skyline as it’s seen today as well as for shaping the airport dining experience for travelers throughout the country and the U. S. Virgin Islands. 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 working with his father and watching how he ran his plastering business, he felt the urgency and necessity to create jobs during the difficult economic times, and that is when his entrepreneurial spirit was born, which lasted throughout his life until his passing in 2014. That entrepreneurial spirit was passed on through his legacy to his children and grandchildren.
“As humble as he was, I think he would be thrilled that a movie about his life would air on Delta flights around the world,” said Herman J. Russell’s son, Michael B. Russell, CEO, H. J. Russell & Company. “We are grateful Delta is interested in featuring his story onboard to inspire an even larger audience.”
“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. “When we embarked on this family project, we never dreamed his life would be made available to be seen on television, let alone by millions of Delta customers.”
“In the 1980s, Delta had the foresight to put a Black-owned company and a white-owned company together, H. J. Russell & Company and Holder Construction, to build the company’s headquarters,” said his son H. Jerome Russell, Jr., Chairman of the Board, the Russell Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (RCIE). “The documentary is also the inspirational back story on which RCIE is being created to grow Black entrepreneurship. The two men who built Delta’s headquarters grew up two miles and two worlds apart in segregated Atlanta and came together through business opportunities to do great things to uplift our city and country.”
‘Building Atlanta: The Story of Herman J. Russell’ will be airing on Delta Studio until May 31, 2021 and will be featured within the airline’s “Must See Documentaries” spotlight collection. Those who won’t be flying in the coming months can also enjoy the film on H. J. Russell & Company’s YouTube channel. The documentary originally aired in February 2020 on ATL PBA. An interview with the filmmakers can be found on the H. J. Russell & Company “We Build: The Podcast” here or on other podcast platforms.
‘Building Atlanta: The Story of Herman J. Russell’ was created in coordination with the Russell family by Emmy Award-winning father and son co-directors, David and John Duke of Living Stories Film & Video. “We met Mr. Russell when we interviewed him for our documentary on former City of Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen,” said John Duke. “As we worked on Mr. Russell’s own story we quickly saw that he built more than buildings; he built relationships. The trust, confidence, and lasting friendships he established enabled a new generation of Black entrepreneurs to move into the mainstream. Herman Russell helped to make real the legacy of a city too busy to hate.”