Ivan Allen Initiative to Advance Humanitarian Work, Research

The legacy of the late Ivan Allen Jr., former mayor of Atlanta and namesake of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, is well known to those who lived in the city and the region during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s.

Allen was largely responsible for building Atlanta’s reputation as an international city through strong support for the business community, development of vibrant arts programs, and the recruitment of professional sports teams. For all this to be possible, though, Allen first had to address the issue of racial segregation and the tensions resulting from it.

In the summer of 1963, President John F. Kennedy called upon Allen to testify before Congress in favor of civil rights legislation to allow equal access to public accommodations for African Americans, which was still a highly controversial idea in the South. Nearly all those whose counsel Allen sought strongly advised against testifying, warning the mayor that doing so would be politically damaging.

Despite the conventional wisdom being offered to him, Allen felt it was vitally important to support the civil rights legislation, not only to establish Atlanta as the “city too busy to hate,” but also because Allen genuinely believed that doing so was a moral imperative. Ultimately, Allen was the only southern elected official who testified in favor of the legislation, an act of social courage in 1963 that led to threats of bodily harm and being ostracized for decades by many of his peers and lifelong friends.

In recognition of Allen’s legacy of social courage and humanitarian concern, Georgia Tech and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts have established the Ivan Allen Jr. Initiative, which will encompass two defining elements: the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage and the Ivan Allen Jr. Institute for Advanced Studies.

Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage
Beginning in 2011, the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage will replace the existing Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Progress and Service, which has been awarded since 2001 to prominent individuals for a lifetime of achievement and with strong connections to Atlanta or Georgia.

The new Allen Prize will be international in scope and will recognize individuals who, by standing up for a clear moral principle in the social arena, have positively affected public discourse at the risk of their own careers, livelihoods, and even their lives. Coupled with a $100,000 award, the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage will stand as the preeminent prize offered by Georgia Tech and will draw attention to the very mission of the Institute in Georgia, the nation, and the world.

“What we envision for the recipients of the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage goes far beyond being honored with the award at the annual Founders Day celebration,” said Ivan Allen College Interim Dean Ken Knoespel, who also serves as McEver Professor of Engineering and Liberal Arts. “We anticipate having the recipient share a wealth of personal and professional experience with students and faculty during an extended stay on campus. The recipient’s presence will be reinforced through workshops, conferences, and other activities.”

“My father was always the kind of man who was guided by his conscience above any other consideration,” said H. Inman Allen, son of Ivan Allen Jr. and chairman of Ivan Allen Company. “I know there are many more Ivan Allens around the globe standing up for what they believe is right regardless of the risk, and I want this award to help bring the continuity of their examples to light.”

Ivan Allen Jr. Institute for Advanced Studies
In addition to the Allen Prize for Social Courage, the Ivan Allen Jr. Initiative will also establish the Ivan Allen Jr. Institute for Advanced Studies. The new institute is being planned as a campus-wide entity that will seek involvement from faculty and students in all six of Georgia Tech’s colleges. As a university-wide initiative, the Allen Institute’s leadership would report to the offices of the president and the provost.

“We envision the Allen Institute as the home for chaired professorships that would be shared between multiple colleges at Georgia Tech,” said Knoespel. “The work undertaken through the Allen Institute would directly support the priorities established in the 25-year Strategic Plan for Georgia Tech.”

“Georgia Tech is already known for its exceptionally collaborative and interdisciplinary programs,” said President Bud Peterson. “But Mayor Allen’s values are leading us to broaden that collaboration. We intend to provide our students with the means by which they can make decisions based on the kinds of moral and ethical principles that led Ivan Allen to risk being ostracized by his peers in order to defend what was right. We want our graduates to be easily identified not only as preeminent in their respective fields, but also as leaders with values, principles, and compassion.”