Speaking about his first administration, Allen commented that “from the time I walked into City Hall in January 1962 until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, I was deeply involved day after day and hour after hour in trying to solve the racial problems. There was simply no end to it.” And further stated that “the civil rights movement would dominate nearly every decision for the next four or five years after that.” Positive change to the racial climate in Atlanta came in the Allen administration: hiring of black firemen, allowing black police to arrest whites, African American appointments to policy boards, desegregation of theaters (1962), swimming pools (1963), the city hall cafeteria (1963) and more restaurants and hotels. Allen had significant support from Robert Woodruff, Coca-Cola’s president, who also understood the city’s need to change if it was to grow.
The mayor strongly supported desegregation and interracial cooperation, and spoke and worked to accomplish these goals. He was expected to reshape the city’s racial culture, and bring the black community into equality. Perhaps no mayor could have accomplished this feat, especially with an antagonistic state government that was resistant to any modifications. After years of hostility from whites and an entrenched racist system, change was gradual, and young black leaders accused Allen of not doing enough, particularly in relation to neighborhood improvement for black areas, school desegregation, public accommodations, fair employment practices, and open housing. Dissatisfaction was not surprising given Atlanta’s history. Allen’s responses were noteworthy, but so far not much beyond what Hartsfield had done for pragmatic economic and political reasons.
Biography by Ronald Bayor, Professor Emeritus of History, Georgia Tech