On April 5, 1968, the day after Martin Luther King's assassination, many American cities were overhung with smoke as rage led to looting and burning in African-American neighborhoods across the nation, the Nation's Capital included. Boston's Roxbury section had suffered from violence as well on April 4, but quick-thinking officials saw a way to both mourn and celebrate Dr. King's life. James Brown's April 5 appearance at the Boston Gardens was well-advertised in the area. Confronted with the spectre of more violence, Democratic Mayor Kevin White faced a conundrum: cancel the concert, which would invite potentially more trouble, or think outside the box.
His, and the City's salvation came from Tom Atkins, a young, African-American Councilman who had an ingenious idea: let the concert go on and broadcast it on the Public TV station WGBH. Brown had issues with that, since he was set to do another televised show, and would lose $ 60,000 if he agreed to televising the Boston show. No doubt realizing this was a bargain compared to potential costs of more city services expended on dealing with riots, Boston agreed to make Brown whole on the money.
It was well worth it. Crime in the city was below-normal, as young people, black and white, stayed home to watch Brown and his Famous Flames tear it up for over two hours, playing his hits old and new and speaking to the crowds at the Garden and at home. In his prime, JB entertained and inspired. At one point, when the crowd pushes toward the stage, and a tense moment is building between the crowd and the police, Brown calms everyone in a way, one suspects, that would have brought a smile to Dr. King's face.