Ivan Allen Jr. Biography: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Nobel Peace Prize

Martin Luther King with Ivan Allen Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his efforts to end racial segregation and achieve racial equality through non-violent protest. Atlanta was King’s hometown and Allen wanted to respond in a way that affirmed and honored King’s work. A positive response is not what all whites wanted, even among the city’s elite. King had been a thorn in the side of the white business community as he strove to desegregate Rich’s Department store and other businesses, and worked to champion striking black employees. Allen did not want to disgrace the city and reveal the racist attitudes that hid behind Atlanta's “a city too busy to hate” slogan. A celebratory affair was planned, invitations mailed, but with few white acknowledgements to attend.

With Robert Woodruff’s backing, Allen was able to secure agreement from other white business leaders to hold a biracial dinner in King’s honor. Atlanta always had a public relations mentality, and when the white business elite became convinced that the city’s reputation would be damaged, they responded positively to the dinner in buying tickets, but many still decided to stay away. Nonetheless, Allen did play a leadership role in honoring King, although angering many whites in doing so, and as reported in the national press, secured praise for Atlanta as a city of racial moderation.

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