Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Good Neighbor Retiring after 40 Years; State Farm Agent Arnett Greene Has Been a Community Stalwart

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A Good Neighbor Retiring after 40 Years; State Farm Agent Arnett Greene Has Been a Community Stalwart

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID BAUERLEIN

As one of the first black State Farm agents in the nation, Arnett Greene looks back on the past 40 years and says that for better or worse, it was never just about making money.

When he opened his Jacksonville agency in the summer of 1969, he was a newcomer to Jacksonville, having moved from Tallahassee. He hung the State Farm sign in a strip shopping center on Edgewood Avenue West in the northwest part of the city. For the first year, he slept at night on a sofa in a back room.

"I pretty much knew it was blazing new territory," he said.

He never moved from that shopping center, which he now owns. Today, he will close the agency's doors and retire from State Farm.

The agency has operated in a part of Jacksonville where unemployment and poverty rates have always been significantly worse than the citywide average. Greene said if he had relocated the agency to another part of town with higher household wealth, his agency would have been more lucrative for him.

"If I had thought about it that way, I would have gotten out of Dodge," he said.

But overall, he said he doesn't regret staying and taking time away from the agency to volunteer for neighborhood-based civic activities.

Greene, 73, was the first African-American to open a State Farm agency in Florida, and the 12th black agent for State Farm in the country, said Harold Mitchell, a retired State Farm executive who has researched the company's history of black agents. When Greene started his agency in 1969, the only other African-American agent in the Southeast - a region Mitchell defines as "the Southeastern Conference plus Texas" - was in Kentucky.

The civil rights movement cleared the path for African-Americans to become agents at major insurance companies. There also were studies in the 1960s that spotlighted how "red-lining" in African-American neighborhoods made it harder for blacks to get property and casualty insurance, said Ron Allen, chairman of the National African-American Insurance Association. He said the combination of red-lining and lack of African-American agents put pressure on companies to contract with black agents. …

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