The mayor rose to the occasion again when, in April 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis. Allen knew that the nation’s eyes would be on Atlanta, where King’s burial would take place. He acted instinctively and with great compassion in helping Mrs. Coretta King cope with the tragedy, and in dealing with the emotional response of the black community. He took to the streets to talk to Atlanta’s African American citizens and express his sorrow. In contrast, Governor Lester Maddox called out large numbers of state police to protect him and the State Capitol. Other cities saw major outbursts of violence; Atlanta did not. This non-violence was at least partly due to Allen’s fair-minded approach and his good working relationship with a number of black leaders.
The mayor’s most important backer and advisor, Robert Woodruff, told Allen what he already knew: that Atlanta would be the focus of the world in the following few days. Woodruff offered any assistance, including funds if the city did not have the money, to handle the funeral in the most proper and respectful manner. The funeral drew dignitaries from around the country and a huge crowd of onlookers. All was peaceful, and Atlanta basked in the accolades received.
Biography by Ronald Bayor, Professor Emeritus of History, Georgia Tech