Montgomery Elects Steven Reed, City's First-Ever Black Mayor

Oct 10, 2019
Originally published on October 10, 2019 8:07 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Montgomery, Ala., has elected a new mayor. For the first time in the city's 200-year history, an African American will lead Alabama's capital. Probate judge Steven Reed won in a runoff to become the city's 57th mayor. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott reports Reed is taking over a city once known as the cradle of the Confederacy.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: The crowd was jubilant after the results were announced the other night.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Put your hands together. Put your hands together for Montgomery's newest mayor walking in right now.

GASSIOTT: To cheers and tears, Steven Reed told his supporters that no city should be defined by the worst things that have happened there, and more importantly, this historic election sends a message.

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STEVEN REED: It's a signal throughout this country about what type of community we are right now - not what we were, but what we are right now and what we want to be going forward.

GASSIOTT: Reed is used to being on the forefront of political causes. He was the first African American probate judge in Montgomery County and the first Alabama judge to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses in 2015. This effort to break new ground is why the Reverend Murphy Green and his wife Sarah came to listen to his victory speech.

MURPHY GREEN: He's young, he's energetic, he has good visions, and he's just a likable person. And I believe that he could bring the changes Montgomery needs, especially among the younger generation.

GASSIOTT: It was Montgomery where Rosa Parks, in 1955, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus, the same city that protesters from Selma were marching to where they were bloodied on their civil rights journey in 1965. Montgomery is where Martin Luther King Jr. pastored a church. When he takes office early next month, Reed will face uphill challenges with growing and developing public safety departments and an ailing public transportation system, but there is one area that's seen significant economic growth, and that's tourism.

MICHELLE BROWDER: So you can make a right up here. You all are getting ready to go to the Legacy Museum. You should be ready and set for what you're going to see.

GASSIOTT: Michelle Browder runs a company called More Than Tours. Her mission is to tell people the real, unvarnished truth about Montgomery and its past. Two years after the Equal Justice Initiative opened its Memorial to Peace and Justice, which focuses on the history of racial lynchings in the United States, her business has benefited. The memorial and other attractions brought over 100,000 more tourists to Montgomery, which also has a large number of Civil War monuments and the first White House of the Confederacy. Browder says Mayor Reed has a lot of challenges ahead, and she hopes he'll do well in office.

BROWDER: Hey, now, Brother Reed. Let's make sure you - you know, make sure you're listening to the hearts of the people. Make sure you're doing what's right, and make sure you're being open to ideas. That's going to take us to where we need to go.

GASSIOTT: Because, as Browder tells her tour participants, history is a journey, and you should try to end up better and closer at the end.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Montgomery, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.