Steven Reed recognizes the importance of being the first African American mayor of Montgomery, a city whose 200-year history is marked by both racial injustice and struggles for equality that helped change the country.
But Reed, like a football coach trying to fight complacency after a championship, is quick to turn the page from his landslide win in the October election.
“It’s very important,” Reed said. “I think it underscores some of the challenges that Montgomery, that Alabama and this nation have had since its inception when it comes to race, when it comes to politics and justice.
“But that will not be what this administration is defined by. This administration will be defined by our results and our impact on the people that live here and our impact on the river region and really what we can accomplish to make this a city of the future and a city that provides more opportunity for everyone.”
Reed, 45, received national media attention when voters chose him from a dozen candidates to replace longtime Mayor Todd Strange, who did not seek another term. Reed hopes to use the spotlight and an outpouring of good will to help propel Montgomery, which has a stagnant population and struggling public schools, to new prosperity and growth.
The new mayor is not new to elected office – or firsts. Voters elected Reed as Montgomery County’s first African American probate judge in 2012. He grew up in a household steeped in politics. His father is Joe L. Reed, one of Alabama’s most influential politicians over the last 60 years because of his successful battles in federal court for more black representation in the Legislature and his four decades of partnership with Paul Hubbert as leaders of the Alabama Education Association, arguably the state’s most powerful political force during that span.
Reed recalls seeing his father in meetings with people such as Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter, John Lewis, and Coretta Scott King. Reed said he didn’t fully appreciate his father’s work and relationships until much later.
“What those opportunities afforded me was a look kind of over the shoulder of someone who was doing something extraordinary that I didn’t realize at the time,” Reed said.
“You aren’t trying to learn, but you are learning indirectly. You are learning through your experience. You’re learning through your exposure.”
Reed said a friend encouraged him to apply to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University to pursue an advanced degree in public administration. He saw no need.
“I already had a doctorate in that growing up,” Reed said.
Reed’s brother, attorney Joe M. Reed, who is five years older, remembers plenty of long drives to political conferences.
“There were always trips,” his brother said. “And your weekends were never yours. They belonged to my dad.”
The brothers said their mother, Mollie Reed, did a good job balancing the demands of politics with a busy family schedule and her own career as an administrator at Alabama State University.
“We went to public schools and we played sports and were very active,” Steven Reed said. “And our friends were from everywhere. We didn’t have select friends.”
When Reed graduated from Montgomery’s Jeff Davis High School in 1992, he said he didn’t have a choice about where to attend college. His father, an Alabama State University graduate and one-time chair of ASU’s board of trustees, sent both his sons to Morehouse College in Atlanta, the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr.
“He said if it’s good enough for Martin King, it’s good enough for you,” Mayor Reed said.
His older brother got essentially the same directive about five years earlier and remembers not being too keen on an all-male college. But he also remembers that both he and Steven envisioned their futures somewhere other than Montgomery, the city where both now have careers.
“We wanted to spread our wings in a different place,” Joe M. Reed said.
Steven Reed said his expectation was a career as a business executive in a city that offered much more opportunity than Montgomery.
“When I left high school I told my parents I’ll never move back here,” he said.
In 1996, Steven Reed received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in finance. He said what he learned at Morehouse went far beyond academics.
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