TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Alonzo Harrison has become the man behind the brand HDB Construction, a company started by his father in Topeka, with one man and one truck.
“For the last 35 years, I have been working for HDB Construction,” Harrison said. “Our family business, which is a 63-year-old company that was started in 1958 by my father Walter J. Harrison.”
HDB Construction is unique in many ways. For starters, it’s a Black-owned construction company.
Kansas has always been a free state. It joined the Union in 1861, abolishing the idea of allowing people to own slaves. While there were no formal Jim Crow Laws in Kansas, segregation became common.
Work for Walter J. Harrison didn’t come easy. In fact, the company was started four years after the historical decision of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial segregation in public schools as unconstitutional, better known as Brown v. Board of Education.
“We have encountered all kinds of challenges, shortfalls, differential treatments,” Harrison said. “He never made that an excuse. He never utilized that as a reason not to succeed or not to try to make effort.”
Walter’s efforts to never let differences get in the way of his work paid off. The company has been behind many projects in its 60 plus years, even helping put together a popular area in Kansas City you may have been to. While locally, the company picked up the pieces after devastating natural disasters to help rebuild the city they started in.
“We have helped build Crown Center,” Harrison said. “Did work on the tornado in ’66 clean up.”
Harrison was a kid when HDB was started. Instead of going straight into the family business when he was old enough, his dad encouraged him to keep going to school. He attended Washburn University, the University of Kansas, Harvard University and more. Then once he was done with school and worked at another local company, he came back home taking over for his father and getting to work on bigger projects.
“There is a thing called Moonshine Beach,” he said. “A million cubic yards of material were built and moved by HDB Construction, and that was on my watch. You go down to Garnett, Kan. one of the leading ethanol plants, HDB did that.”
While they have seen many great contracts, he said they don’t see many in Topeka. They want to be an option to help build Topeka, but to keep business going they had to branch out.
“Currently we’ve got a nice project out in Tecumseh which is in Topeka,” he said. “But the truth of the matter is that Topeka has not been necessarily friendly workwise, contract wise for us. Just hasn’t. We go where the opportunities are. And that’s why as a small company it’s tough. As a Black company, it’s tougher because whenever you add the elements of color you exacerbate the issue. You make it more difficult. I say that to say we have made it known that it’s not our color that makes us good. It’s our capability.”
As more opportunities and contracts came to the company, more jobs soon became available to people in the community to also make a living, something Harrison’s dad always made sure of.
“Helping one’s self to go on and do better and help those that look like you,” Harrison said. “And that was his key.”
HDB Construction started with one man and one truck, turning into many men, trucks and job opportunities. Branding the name HDB Construction, keeping the legacy and hard work of a Black-owned construction company alive.
A fun fact Alonzo Harrison shared with KSNT News: As he was growing up in Topeka he had quite the well-known babysitter. Linda Brown, one of the plaintiffs in the Brown v. Board of Education case, was his babysitter. Harrison’s mother and father were friends with Brown’s parents, and she would volunteer to babysit them. Linda Brown passed away in March of 2018.