Cover photo from Herman J. Russell’s book Building Atlanta: How I Broke Through Segregation to Launch a Business Empire
Chicago Review Press

Renowned Atlanta entrepreneur and developer Herman J. Russell died on Saturday at the age of 83 after a brief illness, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reports.

"He made his transition in a peaceful way," his youngest son, Michael Russell, said in a family statement on Saturday. "We know he's at rest."

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The founder and former CEO of H.J. Russell & Co., Herman Russell turned a small plastering company into one of the biggest and most successful minority-owned construction and real estate firms in the country.

"No words can express the depth of our sorrow and nothing will ever fill the void created by the passing of Mr. Herman J. Russell," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement. He "shattered countless barriers and created greater opportunities for all, but especially for African-Americans. When history catches its breath, Mr. Russell's life work will place him among the most significant heroes of the Civil Rights Movement because of his unwavering contributions and commitment to the progress of this city and nation. Few men have done more to make Atlanta a place where people of all races and backgrounds can bring and build their dreams."

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the savvy businessman bought his first piece of land for $125 when he was only 16.

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That 16-year-old became the man behind the company responsible for building what the Journal-Constitution describes as "much of Atlanta's skyline." Through joint ventures, H.J. Russell & Co. was part of building the Georgia-Pacific Tower and the Georgia Dome. It is also a partner in the new Atlanta Falcons stadium project, slated to open in 2017, that reportedly will cost nearly $1.3 billion.

Other well-known ventures tackled by the company include the Atlanta police headquarters, Fulton County Jail and a number of the city's public school buildings, as well as Atlanta Symphony Hall, Creative Loafing Atlanta reports.

Russell stepped down from his CEO position in 2003, turning over the business to his son Michael, along with his other children, Jerome and Donata.