Judge Steven Reed will be the first African American to lead a city with deep ties to the civil rights movement and the confederacy.
Montgomery, the majority-black state capital of Alabama, made history this week by electing its first black mayor.
On Tuesday evening, 67 percent of voters backed probate judge Steven Reed, who was up against David Woods, a white television station owner, according to unofficial results. In August, the two received the most votes in the city’s mayoral election (Reed was one of 10 black candidates), but neither candidate captured a 50 percent majority, leading to this month’s nonpartisan runoff election.
Reed will be sworn into office in November, replacing current mayor Todd Strange, who has held office since 2009 and did not run for reelection. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, prior to the October election, Montgomery was one of three cities with a population over 100,000 in the Deep South that had never elected a black mayor.
During his mayoral campaign, Reed said he plans to help Montgomery’s poorest communities by addressing issues like food deserts and poor water quality. Reed also wants to improve economic conditions in the city in the hopes of making Montgomery more attractive to younger people and businesses. Montgomery is also currently dealing with a limited city budget, and city officials have dedicated resources in recent years to reduce crime rates in the city.
Reed’s historic win has drawn national attention and praise from civil rights groups. Other politicians have also praised Reed’s victory, with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris tweeting, “The birthplace of the civil rights movement has a new era of leadership for the first time in its 200-year history.”
“This is a historic day for our nation. The election of Steven Reed, the first black mayor of Montgomery, AL, symbolizes the new inclusive & forward thinking South that so many have worked to achieve.” – SPLC Interim President & CEO Karen Baynes-Dunninghttps://t.co/zJIUBx7zfa
— Southern Poverty Law Center (@splcenter) October 9, 2019
Congratulations @stevenlouisreed on making history in Montgomery tonight. The birthplace of the civil rights movement has a new era of leadership for the first time in its 200-year history. Montgomery is in good hands.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 9, 2019
Speaking to a cheering crowd of supporters on Tuesday night, Reed said the election results are bigger than him. “This election has never been about just my ideas,” the mayor-elect said. “It’s been about all the hopes and dreams that we have as individuals and collectively in this city.”
Reed’s historic election marks a new era in a city with ties to the Confederacy and the civil rights movement
The October election is not the first time that Reed, a Morehouse College and Vanderbilt University graduate, has made history in Montgomery. In 2012, he became the county’s first black probate judge. Three years later, in 2015, Reed was the first Alabama judge to issue same sex marriage licenses. His family has long been involved in local and state politics, and his father, Joe Reed, has been the longtime leader of the Alabama Democratic Conference, the black caucus for Alabama’s Democratic Party.
But it is Reed’s mayoral win, which comes in the same year as the 200th anniversary of Montgomery’s incorporation as a city, that marks an especially powerful moment in the city’s history.
Montgomery has played a pivotal role in America’s history on race and civil rights, serving as the first capital of the Confederate States of America in 1861. In 1955, the city was the site of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which saw residents avoid the use of the city’s bus system for more than a year in protest of segregation and the repeated mistreatment of black riders. In 1965, the city served as the ending point of a series of marches between the Alabama city of Selma and Montgomery, as black protesters fought for the right to vote.
As a key city in the Southern movement for civil rights, Montgomery became a hub for numerous activists, including national figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Ralph Abernathy.
In recent years, city officials and civil rights groups have worked to acknowledge and honor this history, and better explain Montgomery’s importance to the broader civil rights movement. In 2013, the city’s police chief apologized for the department’s failure to protect the Freedom Riders, a group of young civil rights activists that included current US congressman John Lewis, from a 1961 incident where they were assaulted by a white mob in the city.
And in 2018, Montgomery became home to the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which seek to document the history of slavery in the United States and honor the more than 4,000 victims of lynchings committed across the country.
Local figures say that Reed’s election is another crucial development in Montgomery’s reckoning with its history, arguing that the historic nature of his election should not be discounted. “Do not underestimate what this means to generations of people who fought hard for the man who looks like Reed to hold the city’s highest office,” Montgomery Advertiser executive editor Bro Krift wrote in an op-ed published on Tuesday night. “Do not depreciate what it means to parents of the youth of this city who look like Reed and who now have a man they can hold up as an example.”
As Montgomery continues to celebrate Reed’s victory, it is worth noting that he is not the only black mayor-elect to make history this week. Roughly 90 miles away from Montgomery, Tuesday also saw the city of Talladega, Alabama, elect its first black mayor, Timothy Ragland. Ragland will also be sworn into office in November.