It’s a city where the Civil Rights Movement was born. Where Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat. Where Martin Luther King, Jr., marched from Selma with countless Black protesters fighting for voting rights.
It’s Montgomery, Alabama, and the city is making history again… this time, for electing its first Black mayor.
Voters in the majority-Black Montgomery elected Steven L. Reed into the position - a historic victory 200 years in the making. But Reed is no stranger to making history; he was also the county’s first Black probate judge.
Unofficial election results purport that his win against media tycoon David Woods was a landslide; he won with 67 percent of the vote. In his victory speech, Reed spoke to what the achievement represented:
“This election has never been about me. 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 this city… and the way we found the opportunity to improve outcomes regardless of… anything that may divide us or make us different from one another. We have been focused from day one [on] the things that make us better. The things that unite us.”
While many Montgomerians and beyond celebrated this important moment, some voiced fury over Reed’s election. Such backlash is nothing new for Black people in government, particularly in the South. In fact, it’s a historical phenomenon.
After slavery’s abolishment, thousands of Black officials were elected into office throughout the South during Reconstruction. It was a time wherein newly-freed Blacks fought for true autonomy; the political process offered such freedom. They formed organizations like Equal Rights Leagues to fight for voting rights, protest discrimination, and demand equality.
These largely-successful endeavors led to the obtainment of rights via the 14th and 15th Amendments. But formerly enslaved persons having power infuriated innumerable white men and women. And those in leadership were often met with violence.
According to History.com, “The Ku Klux Klan targeted local Republican leaders and [Blacks] who challenged their white employers, and at least 35 [Black] officials were murdered by the Klan and other white supremacist organizations during the Reconstruction era.”
To uphold white supremacy, intimidation tactics and other nefarious methods, like poll taxes and literacy tests, were used relentlessly for almost 100 years to block the Black vote. And the loss of voting-access meant fewer - if any - Black people in office.
The 1960s saw the rise of elected Black mayors and officeholders again. Now, in 2019, more than 200 years after Montgomery’s founding, Steven L. Reed is Montgomery’s first-ever Black mayor.
Many sounded off on why this victory is so important. Karen Baynes-Dunning, interim President of the Southern Poverty Law Center, tweeted, “The election of Steven Reed… symbolizes the new inclusive & forward thinking South that so many have worked to achieve.”
Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris also tweeted: “The birthplace of the civil rights movement has a new era of leadership… Montgomery is in good hands.”