Montgomery, Alabama, is notorious for being a place where “more than 4,400 [Black] men, women and children were hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned and beaten to death by White mobs between 1877 and 1950,” according to Montgomery’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
On Tuesday (November 12), Steven L. Reed was sworn in as the city’s first Black mayor in its 200-year history. Reed beat out David Woods on October 8 with 67 percent of the vote. The victory may feel even sweeter to Reed, considering that his father was an activist who protested segregation in 1960 via a sit-in at the Montgomery County Courthouse’s restaurant.
“To see things come to where they are right now, when you think of what took place in this country—from the first enslaved Africans being brought here [to Virginia] in 1619, to this city being founded in 1819, to the city electing its first Black mayor in 2019—the significance of it is also found in the possibilities that we are now afforded, and the hope it has given people that we will progress to a New South,” Reed told Time in an article published November 11.
Cognizant of his city’s fraught history of race relations—from Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a White passenger to the Selma to Montgomery March that ended in police violence—the 45-year-old new mayor is said to have grown up watching the arc of the moral universe slowly bend toward justice. But the new mayor is focused on moving the city forward, not just looking backward.
“We want to make sure that we’re a city that’s not just a museum for the rest of the country,” Reed said. “We want to certainly acknowledge the past. It is not enough if we are just commemorating things that have happened in the past. We have to invest in the future of the citizens who live here now so we can be a part of the New South.”