Born into a wealthy family, the World War II vet married the granddaughter of city patriarch Hugh T. Inman. From 1962 to 1970, Allen proved a heroic mayor. When an Air France plane crashed in Orly, killing Atlanta’s leading arts patrons, Allen rushed overseas to identify bodies. When Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, Allen was the one who had to tell Coretta the wound was fatal—in the ladies room at the Atlanta airport. He was the only Southern elected official to testify before Congress in support of the Civil Rights Act—a bold move that sparked death threats and seemed certain political suicide. The city also grew exponentially under his leadership and attracted the Braves, Falcons, and Hawks.
His One Big mistake Early in his tenure as mayor, Allen authorized construction of a roadblock across Peyton Road, meant to keep nearby black homebuyers out of a formerly all-white subdivision. There was a national media outcry over Atlanta’s “Berlin Wall.” It was eventually declared illegal and demolished. Previous Mayor William B. Hartsfield advised Allen, “Never do anything wrong they can take a picture of.”
This article originally ran in the May 2011 issue