Today in Boston by Ethan Underhill: 4/5/1968 — The Concert 🎤

This one is a hell of a picture.

Just off center, seeming to mull over options on the proverbial table, stands the Godfather of Soul himself — 34-year-old James Brown.

To the right, like only a politician can, gestures Kevin White, the 38-year-old Mayor of Boston who’d been in office for just 3 months.

To the left, looking like the calm man with the plan that he was, is 29-year-old Thomas Atkins, the Boston City Councilor who made sure that his counterparts came to an agreement.

See, tonight in Boston, 1968, Soul Brother No. 1 was set to play the Garden, and Mayor White was trying to figure out if he should cancel the show in order to keep the relative peace in a city still reeling from the shock of Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4.

After an uneasy night in the predominantly black neighborhoods of Roxbury and the South End, the young mayor had to make a politically perilous call.

He could call off the concert and further upset the black community.

Or he could let the show go on and enrage the “law and order” folks who feared chaos would come to the city’s center.

That’s when Atkins came up with the third way: broadcast the show live on @WGBH so that Boston would have something to watch — and something to keep them at home.

Now, like any good businessman would be, the Godfather of Soul was not jazzed at the prospect of losing so much dough in ticket sales. So, he made it clear that he would need $60,000 — which is about $445,000 in 2019 — on the table for the broadcast to move forward.

Recognizing that you can’t put a price on peace, White obliged.

Wouldn’t you know it, but Atkins’ idea worked brilliantly. Only 2,000 people filled the Garden’s 14,000 seats that night as thousands more watched from the comfort of their living rooms.

Boston was kept calm and spared from further damage that Friday night, and it wouldn’t have happened without the three men in this shot coming to a deal.

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