Alabama’s capital Montgomery, a city once considered a cradle to the Confederacy and later revered as the birthplace of the civil rights movement, has elected the first African American mayor in its 200-year history.
Probate Judge Steven Reed, 45, clasped the history-making victory after defeating local television station owner David Woods by a decisive margin, winning by around 67% of the vote in Tuesday’s mayoral runoff, according to unofficial returns.
‘This election has never been about me,’ Reed told a cheering crowd, after his triumph was announced. ‘This election has never been about just my ideas. It’s been about all of the hopes and dreams that we have as individuals and collectively in the city.’
Reed said his campaign was built on a coalition focused on the city’s future and ‘all of the things that tie us together rather than those things that keep us apart.’
No stranger to making history, Reed was the first black probate judge elected in Montgomery County and was one of the first to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in the state.
His father, Joe Reed, is the longtime leader of the black caucus of the Alabama Democratic Party.
Montgomery, which was incorporated on December 3, 1819, has long played a central part in the United States’ unsavory racial history. It was the first capital of the Confederate States in 1861, and is home to the church where Martin Luther King Jr. pioneered the Montgomery bus boycott, which went on to make Rosa Parks a household name.
Reed will replace current Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange, who did not seek re-election having served since 2009.
Born in the city, Reed graduated from Morehouse, a historically black college in Atlanta, before going on to earn an MBA from Vanderbilt.
Reverend Edward J. Nettles, a prominent pastor who leads the Freewill Missionary Baptist Church, said Reed’s election will ‘will send a signal to the entire country that Montgomery is moving forward in a positive way,’ to the New York Times.
Nettles also affirmed that Reed’s election represented a generation shift, saying that though the city of Montgomery will continued to be weighed down by its challenging racial past, a younger official such as Reed would bear less of that baggage.
‘We are so caught up in our past,’ Pastor Nettles said. ‘There’s a generation that’s older than him. They can’t seem to get past the politics and status quo of the past. They’re still locked in a particular mind-set.’
Montgomery is one of only three cities in six Deep South states with a population of 100,000 or more that hadn’t previously elected an African American mayor.
The very first African-American mayors were elected during the mid-1800s during a short span of time known has Reconstruction.
Birmingham, Alabama, another city plagued by a dark racial past, elected its first African-American mayor, Richard Arrington Jr., 40 years ago, who served five terms.
But Montgomery has been notoriously slow to make amends with its troubled past. Only in 2013 did the city’s police chief apologize for the failure of their officers to protect the civil rights activists known as the Freedom Riders who were attacked by a white mob in 1961.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Luke Kenton