Ivan Allen Jr. Biography

Born Ivan Earnest Allen Jr., March 15, 1911, in Atlanta, GA; died July 2, 2003, in Atlanta, GA. Mayor and business owner. As mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, from 1962 to 1970, Ivan Allen Jr. presided over that city's peaceful desegregation. He ended segregation at City Hall, testified before Congress in favor of civil rights laws, and forged friendships with Martin Luther King, Jr. and other black leaders. His leadership also encouraged economic development in the city and attracted major–league sports teams, helping to make Atlanta the progressive, dynamic city it is today.

"Over the turbulent waters of the 1960s, Ivan Allen was the human bridge from the old South to the new in Atlanta," author Gary M. Pomerantz, who wrote a book about the Allen family, told Douglas Martin in the New York Times. "Literally on his back, he carried the city's white establishment to a more enlightened day." Sam A. Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, told the Atlanta Journal–Constitution, "He really built this city. He was what made us different from Birmingham and the rest of the South. He put us on the map of the world." Born in Atlanta in 1911, Allen was the only child of Ivan Sr. and Irene Beaumont Allen. His father was a state senator and owner of a major local office supply company. Allen graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology and joined his father's company in 1933. He married Louise Richardson in 1936, the same year he became treasurer of the Georgia State Hospital Authority and worked for Georgia's governor, Eugene Talmadge. During World War II, he served as a quartermaster in Atlanta and as a division director in the Selective Service System. From 1945 to 1946, he worked as an aide to another governor, Ellis Arnall.

Allen became president of the family company, Ivan Allen Co., in 1946, and its sales more than quadrupled in five years. He briefly ran for governor in the 1950s as a segregationist, but he did not get much support. His political philosophy later changed. He was elected president of Atlanta's Chamber of Commerce in 1960, and pushed for new expressways, rapid transit, a stadium, and a plan for school integration. In March of 1961, he negotiated an agreement to desegregate Atlanta's lunch counters.

He ran for mayor that year against segregationist Lester Maddox. Maddox got the most support from white Atlanta residents, but the black community, which made up 40 percent of the city, carried Allen to victory. On January 2, 1962, Allen took office and immediately ordered the "white" and "colored" signs at Atlanta's city hall be taken down, integrated the city hall cafeteria, and allowed the city's black police officers to arrest whites for the first time. While mayor, he also hired Atlanta's first black firefighters.

There was one blemish on his racial policies: late in 1962 he erected a fence to separate a black neighborhood from a white neighborhood, but he took it down in the face of legal challenges a few months later. The same year, he took on a solemn responsibility: when more than 100 Atlanta leaders on an art appreciation tour died in a plane crash near Paris, France, Allen went to France to help identify the bodies and bring them home.

Allen heeded President John F. Kennedy's call and testified before Congress in favor of the bill that would become the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He was the only prominent Southern politician to do so, and his testimony was not welcomed by many whites in Atlanta. "When President Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage, he was writing about men like you," Senator John Pastore of Rhode Island told Allen at the time, according to the Atlanta Journal–Constitution. When Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Allen helped organize a 1,500–person dinner to honor him. Though other white leaders in the city had been hesitant to embrace King, many attended the dinner, making it a turning point in Atlanta's race relations. During a 1966 riot in Summerhill, a black neighborhood in the city, Allen walked the streets, refusing to wear a riot helmet as the police did, and was thrown from a car while trying to pacify a crowd.

Allen helped bring major–league baseball, football, and basketball to Atlanta, attracting the Braves from Milwaukee in 1965, the Falcons football team in 1966, and basketball's Hawks in 1968. The city's population grew more than 30 percent while he was mayor, and more than 50 new buildings appeared downtown. New freeways were built and the airport was expanded.

After two terms, Allen decided not to run for re–election, and he left office in 1970 and returned to his office–supply business. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, honored him with the Martin Luther King Jr. Nonviolent Peace Prize in 1981. Allen's company was bought by the office–supply giant Staples Inc. in 1998. The Atlanta City Council debated renaming a downtown street Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard in 2000, but Allen declined.

After lapsing into a coma, Allen died on July 2, 2003, at the age of 92 in a retirement home in Atlanta, Georgia, one week after his old opponent, Maddox, and Atlanta's first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, also died. He is survived by his wife, sons Hugh and Beaumont, seven grandchildren, and four great–grandchildren. Another son, Ivan III, died in 1992.


Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 3, 2003, p. A1; CNN.com , http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/07/02/allen.obit.ap/index.html (July 7, 2003); Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2003, p. B14; New York Times, July 3, 2003, p. A21.

Erick Trickey

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