Angelo was the son of Paul Herndon, a miner who had moved with his wife, Hattie, to Ohio from Alabama. After his father's death, Herndon left home at age 13 to work as at the mines in Lexington, Kentucky. Five years later he continued to the Birmingham District, where he was employed by the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company in Docena. In June 1930 he came across a handbill from the Unemployment Council calling for a mass meeting. He joined immediately and through that group became involved in the Communist Party, which he joined a few weeks later.
At a downtown rally held by the Unemployment Council to protest unequal relief from the Community Chest, Herndon reacted strongly to a placating speech given by Birmingham Reporter editor Oscar Adams Sr. He won election to serve as a delegate to the National Unemployment Convention in Chicago, Illinois, and was kicked out of his relative's house. Upon his return he worked with Harry Simms of the Young Communist League to organize miners in Birmingham and share-croppers and tenant farmers in the Black Belt. In 1931 his attention was turned to organizing for support of the black men accused of raping two white women in Scottsboro. He spoke at the All-Southern Scottsboro Conference in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was swept up in the hunt for the killer of two women on Leeds Highway on August 4. The surviving girl, Nell Williams, had said that their attacker was a light-skinned educated black man who "lectured them on racial injustice," and tried to "get fresh," before pulling out a gun.
The charged atmosphere and Herndon's notoriety made it impossible for him to remain in the city. He relocated to Atlanta, Georgia and supported efforts to organize block committees for the Unemployment Council. When the state closed all the relief stations in June 1932 he helped promote a mass meeting to protest. He was arrested on July 11 and convicted in January 1933 of "inciting to insurrection". After he was sentenced, he told the court that "You may succeed in killing one, two, even a score of working-class organizers. But you cannot kill the working class."
The Georgia Supreme Court upheld his conviction on appeal, but their decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1937. Herndon, meanwhile, was released in 1934 after serving only two years of his 18-20 year sentence. He founded the Negro Publication Society of America in the 1940s, which published the radical African-American newspaper The People's Advocate in San Francisco, California.
- Herndon, Angelo (1937) Let Me Live. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0472031996
- Kelley, Robin D. G. (1990) Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press ISBN 9780807842881