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Ivan Allen Jr. Obituary

Former Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. dead at age 92
Mayor helped city bridge racial divide


Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writers

Allen Ivan Jr., mayor of Atlanta during the turbulent 1960s, has died at age 92. Allen passed away just after 1 p.m. today. The former mayor is credited for keeping Atlanta calm during the 1960s because of his willingness to welcome integration in public and business arenas.

Allen served as mayor from 1962-1970.

He was instrumental in bring professional sports to Atlanta by leading the efforts to build the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which became the home for the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta Braves.

Allen, who was in failing health over the past couple of years, is survived by his wife, Louise Richardson Allen, and two sons: Hugh Inman Allen and Beaumont Allen. His eldest son, Ivan Allen III, died in 1992.

Allen led the city through economic prosperity and civil rights civility while bringing major league sports to the South for the first time.

His name, buoyant personality, progressive political style and aristocratic demeanor were synonymous with the city's modern image, formed largely during his term from 1962 until 1970. It was a period when Atlanta became the quintessential thriving Sun Belt metropolis, displaying at least the illusion of racial equality.

Allen's death comes a week after the sudden death of former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson and the death of one-time political opponent Lester Maddox, the segregationist whom Allen defeated in the 1961 mayoral race.

During Allen's two terms, the city's population 31.5 percent. The city saw 50 major buildings erected downtown, including Peachtree Center. Retail sales increased 97 percent, per capita income 80 percent.

Corporations poured millions of dollars into a "Forward Atlanta" ad campaign in major media around the nation to promote the city's image.

Allen's years at City Hall also saw tremendous growth in transportation. Second and third parallel runways were added at Hartsfield International Airport, and planning began for the massive new terminal that opened in 1980.

The Downtown Connector cut through the city; I-285 began to ring it. And Atlanta started planning for the MARTA rail system.

Allen also made Atlanta a big-league city in the sports arena. Until he and banker Mills B. Lane Jr. stepped in, Atlanta was a minor league stop among cities like Birmingham and Mobile. Then Allen built Atlanta Stadium.

"We built a stadium on ground we didn't own with money we didn't have for a team we hadn't signed," Allen said. He signed the Milwaukee Braves to a 25-year contract, and they began playing as the Atlanta Braves in 1966.

In June of 1966, the National Football league beckoned, and the Atlanta Falcons were born.

No question who was boss. Mayor helped city bridge racial divide

Unlike many of his raucous counterparts in Southern politics, Allen was known as a cultured man of dignity and grace, courteous to a fault.

Above all, he was supremely confident in the strength of his convictions and his extraordinary ability to lead.

"If the city administrative machinery was too slow in solving a problem, he would do it himself," former aide Dan Sweat once said. "On more than one occasion I witnessed his whipping out his checkbook and writing a personal check for a public works project when there was no money budgeted for it."

George Berry, another former aide, said Allen also knew how to delegate. "He knew how to sound broad themes and to use his office in a strategic way to get the people of the city to address a problem or an issue that had to be solved.

"He had more of all the diverse qualities that are required to be a great leader. And he had charisma," Berry said. "He was one of the most distinguished-looking men I ever knew. When he entered a room or stood before a crowd, there was no question who was in charge."

Rare courage on race issue

Allen was the pacesetter among white Southern politicians on the race issue. He was the only Southern elected official to testify in favor of the public accommodations section of what became the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

President John F. Kennedy sent New York lawyer and former Atlantan Morris B. Abram Sr. to ask Allen to testify before Congress on the legislation, and the mayor agreed.

He told the Senate Commerce Committee on July 25, 1963: "Failure by Congress to take definite actions at this time is by inference an endorsement of the right of private business to practice racial discrimination and, in my opinion, would start the same round of squabbles and demonstrations we have had in the past."

Sen. Philip Hart of Michigan asked Allen if Atlanta was acting under "Communist influence."

"Senator," the mayor replied, "there's not any more Communists in Atlanta than we've got men on the moon."

Sen. John Pastore of Rhode Island told Allen: "When President Kennedy wrote 'Profiles in Courage,' he was writing about men like you."

The New York Times editorialized after Allen's testimony: "On rare occasions the oratorical fog on Capitol Hill is pierced by a voice resonant with courage and dignity."

There was angry reaction back home, however. In November, Atlanta's Board of Aldermen voted 9-3 against permitting Allen to speak to them about a public accommodations resolution.

"He was the only Southern mayor to testify, which said a lot for him right there," said Dana F. White, a Atlanta historian at Emory University. "I am sure [the White House] was pressuring other people to do it. He had the courage."

On the day he took office, Jan. 2, 1962 -- leading a city 40 percent black but still almost totally segregated -- Allen ordered "white" and "colored" signs removed from City Hall, desegregated the City Hall cafeteria, and gave the 48 black officers in a force of 900 the authority to arrest whites.

He hired the first black firefighters and openly supported the civil rights efforts of fellow Atlantan the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

When King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1964, Allen and 1,500 other Atlantans honored him at a biracial dinner the following January at the old Dinkler Hotel in Atlanta.

After King was mortally wounded in Memphis on April 4, 1968, Allen and his wife, Louise, drove in their personal car to the King residence in Atlanta. They arranged to drive King's widow, Coretta, to the airport, where she was to fly to Memphis to be at her husband's side. She canceled the trip after being told at the airport that her husband had died.

Allen blundered on the race issue, however, in his first year as mayor. He broke a rule that been given him by former longtime Mayor William B. Hartsfield, who preceded Allen in office: "Never do anything wrong they can take a picture of."

A developer sold his house on Peyton Road in southwest Atlanta to a black doctor. White residents south of the road feared "blockbusting" would lead to an influx of black neighbors.

Allen decided to erect a barrier along the road to keep African-Americans out of the white area, a decision he later regretted as the low point of his public service. The barrier remained for two months, to be photographed often by newspapers and wire services.

Finally a court ruled the barrier illegal, though Allen, anticipating the ruling, had had it taken down.

Although Allen's era spurred transportation growth by luring federal dollars for expressways, that process also adversely affected race relations. The 1956 Interstate Highway Act provided the funds to crisscross Atlanta with I-75, I-85 and I-20 and encircle it with I-285. But the plan also hastened white flight to the suburbs.

Tensions boiled over into riots twice during the Allen years. The first came in 1966 in Summerhill, adjoining Atlanta Stadium, when Allen was shaken off a car and rocks and bottles flew around his head. In 1967 in Dixie Hills, bricks and firebombs were thrown during a disturbance.

"His main legacy is as a civil rights mayor," Emory's White said of Allen. White said former Hartsfield, Allen's predecessor, began to create an Atlanta that was more of an open society. Allen continued the legacy. "For his time, he was an outstanding individual," White said of Allen.

White said a few years ago he was at a book-signing party where he was talking to Allen and his wife, Louise, when Coretta Scott King walked up.

"The three just stood there and talked," White remembered. "I got the sense that this had developed into a strong relationship over the years. He always had that ability to relate to people. He has always been the consummate gentleman."

Life of duty, leadership

Allen was born March 15, 1911, in Atlanta, the only son of Ivan Allen Sr. and Irene Beaumont Allen. His father helped form Ivan Allen-Marshall Co., later Ivan Allen Co.

Ivan Jr. grew up in a house on Peachtree Street and attended Tenth Street and Spring Street elementary schools, O'Keefe Junior High and Boys' High.

At Georgia Tech he was president of his fraternity, his class and Student Council and was cadet colonel of ROTC. He made all A's in 1929 on the way to compiling one of his class's top five scholastic averages, and he was elected to five honorary societies.

He led a student protest march on the state Capitol after Gov. Eugene Talmadge announced he planned to abolish Tech's School of Commerce. The march did not achieve its goal, and in 1933 he became one of the last Tech graduates in commerce.

Allen went to work for his father as a clerk. In 1936 he married Louise Richardson of a wealthy local family.

He spent all of World War II as an officer in the Quartermaster Corps -- a safe stateside billet for which he later felt obliged to apologize. Gov. Ellis Arnall, who had been a student leader at the University of Georgia while Allen was the same at Tech, got Allen an early release from military service in 1945. After that, Allen was Arnall's executive secretary for six months.

Allen left Arnall's staff in March 1946 to become president of Ivan Allen-Marshall Co. He was honorary chief of staff for acting Gov. M.E. Thompson from January to March 1947.

Allen sent up trial balloons on entering the race for governor in 1953 and 1957. Neither bid came about.

By 1961 Allen was president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. As president, Allen outlined a six-point program for progress in Atlanta: endorsement of the 1960 Sibley Commission recommendations for local option on school integration, increased expressway construction, urban renewal, an auditorium-coliseum and stadium, rapid transit, and the Forward Atlanta program to boost the city and attract tourism.

In a historic series of events that presaged his election as mayor, Allen negotiated with the city's merchants and black leaders to desegregate downtown lunch counters in 1961. King and 75 students were arrested after marching on Rich's department store and its segregated basement restaurant, where they were turned back.

Allen and black leaders met almost daily for five weeks. In March 1961, an agreement was reached providing that 30 days after the court-ordered desegregation of Atlanta schools that fall, blacks would be guaranteed full desegregation of downtown lunch counters. In turn, blacks would cease picketing and boycotting the stores.

After Hartsfield announced his retirement -- he had been mayor for a quarter-century, from 1936 to 1940 and from 1943 to 1962 -- Allen resigned as chamber president and said he would run for mayor.

In a Democratic runoff, Allen defeated Maddox, who later would become Georgia's governor.

Allen was Atlanta's mayor on a tragic day for the city -- June 3, 1962. An Air France Boeing 707 crashed on takeoff from Orly Field outside Paris, killing 101 Atlantans returning from an art appreciation tour.

The mayor went to France to help bring the bodies home. As he walked through the wreckage he noticed some of the pastel tulle dresses that Nancy Frederick Pegram always wore; she had been Allen's first date.

He went to five morgues to identify bodies, but they were burned so badly that identification was impossible. There was a memorial service at the American Cathedral. After that he went to his hotel and made 30 trans-Atlantic calls to grieving Atlanta families.

Allen won a second term in 1965 when he defeated former legislator M.M. "Muggsy" Smith in a landslide.

-- Maria Saporta contributed to this article.
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Published online on July 2, 2003 courtesy of

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