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In Their Own Words

April 04, 1968

Ivan Allen, Jr. Thoughts After MLK Assasination

In reflecting on the night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, then-mayor Ivan Allen, Jr. later wrote:

“The obvious question was, would there be trouble in Atlanta, Martin Luther King’s birthplace? By now, that was the major question in mind. Could we hold together that huge Atlanta University complex on the west side of the city, the six predominantly Negro universities and colleges - Martin’s alma mater, Morehouse College, among them - from whence had come the frontline soldiers in the civil-rights crusade? Without a doubt, the world had already shifted its attention from Memphis to Atlanta. The body would be brought back here, and it would be put into the ground here … .

“Then, about midnight, I finally got in a call to the President.

” ‘What does it look like down there,’ he said.

” ‘It’s all right, right now, Mr. President,’ I told him. ‘I’m worried, but I’m hopeful. It’s raining pretty hard, and that’s a big help. It’ll keep people off the streets.’

” ‘We’ve had a lot of rioting in the country,’ said Johnson.

” ‘I’ll do whatever’s necessary, Mayor,’ he said, ‘but this stuff is breaking out all over. I hope we don’t have to send anybody down there. I hope if it gets bad in Atlanta the National Guard can take care of it.’

“Then, just as I was preparing to leave City Hall to go home for some sleep, I had a long distance call … from Robert Woodruff, the developer of Coca-Cola … .”

” ‘Ivan,’ he said, ‘the minute they bring King’s body back tomorrow - between then and the time of the funeral - Atlanta, Georgia, is going to be the center of the universe.’ He paused. ‘I want you to do whatever is right and necessary, and whatever the city can’t pay for will be taken care of. Just do it right.’ He was, in one breath, relieving me of any worries such as how we were going to pay for necessary police protection. I can’t imagine the mayor of any other city in the United States being given a blank check like that, under such trying circumstances.”

Source: Ivan Allen and Paul Hemphill, Mayor: Notes on the Sixties (N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 1971).