Ivan Allen Jr. was born on March 15, 1911 into a family that was to represent Atlanta's boosterism and development. His father, Ivan Allen Sr. from Dalton, Georgia, moved to Atlanta in 1895 to start the Fielder and Allen Company, selling office products equipment and supplies. In 1907, he married Irene Beaumont, and they had one child, Ivan Allen Jr.
Allen Sr.'s business grew substantially over the years as its owner took his place among the social, political, and economic elite of the city. He tied his future to Atlanta, as did his son, and became a prominent figure on the Atlanta civic scene. Allen, Sr. became president of the Atlanta Convention Bureau in 1913 and of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in 1917, and soon after became a state senator. He was said to embody The Atlanta Spirit, and was the primary force behind the "Forward Atlanta" campaign in the 1920s, which promoted the city's progress but neglected its African American population, a failure not corrected until the 1960s by his son.
Allen Jr. had the best education white Atlanta could offer, majoring in commerce at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and receiving his first political experience as student body president, leading a student protest at the state Capitol after Gov. Eugene Talmadge announced his desire to close down Tech's School of Commerce. Allen graduated in 1933 and took a position with the family firm as expected. Already among Atlanta's elite, he further reinforced his position by marrying Louise Richardson in 1936, a member of the important Inman family. The prominent figures at the wedding testified to his already privileged place. The Allen's had three children: sons Ivan III, H. Inman, and Beaumont.
With his business booming, Allen became involved with civic activities and service to the Atlanta community, as was expected of someone of his class, and made his political connections as well, helped along by his father. Allen, Jr. served on Governor Eurith Rivers' staff in the late 1930s, served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps when World War II began, and in 1943, now a major, came under the wing of Governor Ellis Arnall, elected in 1942. Using his connections, Arnall had Allen transferred to the position of Georgia field director of the Selective Service System. Immediately after the war, Arnall appointed Allen his executive secretary.
The future mayor was at an important place in his career, taking over the presidency of the Ivan Allen Company in 1946, serving as president of the Atlanta Area Council Boy Scouts of America in 1945-47, and securing leadership roles in Atlanta's Community Chest in 1947. He became well-known through his business and community work, and began having aspirations to be governor some day. Groomed for this role, but not for the racial upheavals of the 1960s, Allen was typical of the white elite who had only minimal contact with Atlanta's black population and were ardent segregationists.
During the 1950s, as racial tensions increased throughout the country and plans for the future of race relations had to be discussed, Allen continued his segregationist stand. He opposed the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954 that opened the nation's schools to desegregation, suggested removing dissatisfied Georgia Blacks to other areas in 1957, was a supporter of arch segregationist Herman Talmadge for the U.S. Senate in 1958, and even made a brief attempt to secure a nomination as governor on a segregationist platform, only to realize that no Atlanta individual could become governor at this time in a state where rural interests held sway.
Collection items featured in this article and other items of interest:
- Allen, Ivan, Sr.
- Ivan Allen Marshall Company
- Interview with Ivan Allen Jr. on his years at Georgia Tech
Biography by Ronald Bayor, Professor Emeritus of History, Georgia Tech