In our great democracy, few men can lay claim to both election to public office and selection to reign as king, but so could boast Alexander Leo Herman, a well-known figure in the Bay City of Mobile. “Alex” as he was more commonly called was an insurance official, civic leader, and the first man of color elected to public office in Alabama outside of Reconstruction.
Alexander Leo Herman was born in Mobile on 10 May 1899 to George Xavier Herman and Mary Alice Shepard. He was baptized on 13 September 1899 at Saint Patrick’s Church in Mobile. On his paternal side, he was descended from the Laurents, Chastangs and Bernoudys, three of the oldest families in Mobile. His father’s father like his mother’s father was a native of Germany.
One of ten children, eight of whom lived to adulthood, Alex like all of his siblings had the benefit of a university education. He attended the Tuskegee Institute for a time, gaining a reputation in his young years as an excellent baseball player. He worked in his father’s bakery along with his brother George X. Herman, Jr. He played baseball professionally and for a time was a manager and part-owner of the Mobile Braves team, the star player of which was Satchel Page.
In 1928, Alex began what would be a forty-seven year career with the Unity Burial ad Life Insurance Company. For forty-two of those years he served as president of the company. Unity was one of the largest colored insurance companies in the South. He was very active in the Democratic Party in Alabama and was elected the first colored member of the Mobile County Democratic Committee. He actively encouraged voting and engagement in the democratic process among his people.
He engaged in a number of civic and social organizations, serving on the Board of Trustees of the Mobile Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was also an active supporter of the Colored Y.M.C.A. In 1940, he helped to found the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association, the oldest surviving black Carnival association in Mobile. He reigned as the first King Elexis during that same year, the regnal name of the monarch being an adaptation of his own name.
Alex Herman also served for many years as Exalted Ruler of the Gulf City Lodge No. 244 of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World. He was a member of Mobile Council No. 1 and George L. Rieras Grand Assembly No. 1 of the Knights of Peter Claver. He served as District Deputy of the Gulf Coast and National Treasurer of the Knights of Peter Claver. He was also a charter member of the Original Utopia Social Club. He was a dedicated parishioner of Most Pure Heart of Mary Church and a member of its Holy Name Society. Alexander Leo Herman died on 13 December 1975 at the age of seventy-six years in his native Mobile.
Alex Herman had one son, Kirk Herman, and one daughter, Alexis Marguerite Herman. Alexis Herman, quite distinguished in her own right, served as United States Secretary of Labor during the administration of President Bill Clinton.
Source: Mobile Press-Register, 20 December 1975; The Claverite, Winter 1975.