James Brown already had a concert scheduled at Boston Garden on April 5, 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis the day before. Inner cities around the country were burning with rage, and Boston Mayor Kevin White had decided to shut down all scheduled public events in an effort to keep his city from doing the same.
But a Black councilman, was able to convince Mayor White to not only allow Brown’s show to go on, but to televise it. Cancelling the Godfather of Soul, the councilman argued, might make matters worse in terms of uprisings.
So with heavy police presence inside Boston Garden, James Brown took the stage before a crowd on edge, and cameras from Boston public television station WGBH. Mayor White joined Brown to kick off the performance and say a few words in honor of MLK.
At some point during the concert, about a dozen fans jumped on stage, prompting officers to rush in. But James Brown called them off. Standing between the cops and the people, he said to the uniformed men: “Move off, I’ll be alright. I’ll be fine.”
The crowd cheered and the police backed off. More folks started to swarm Brown on stage. Somewhere in the middle of the gaggle, the entertainer is heard pleading with them to stop acting a fool.
“Go down and let’s do this show together,” he says. “We’re black. Don’t make us all look bad.”
The crowd respects Brown’s pleas and the fans surrounding him returned to the floor. The show went on without incident. More importantly, the telecast had the intended effect of calming the city, as crime was down compared with a typical Friday night. April 5, 1968 soon became known as “The Night James Brown Saved Boston.”