Montgomery, Alabama, Elects First Black Mayor

10.09.19

Voters in Montgomery, Alabama, where more than half the population is black, elected an African American as mayor for the first time in the city’s 200-year history.

Steven Reed won yesterday’s runoff with 32,918 votes to opponent David Woods’s 16,010 votes, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. He will be sworn in on November 12.

In 2012, Mr. Reed became the first African American to be elected probate judge in Montgomery County, and in 2015, he was the first probate judge to issue same-sex marriage licenses in Alabama.

Montgomery is one of only three cities in the Deep South with a population over 100,000 that has never had a black mayor, Professor Derryn Eroll Moten, chairman of Alabama State University’s Department of History and Political Science, told the Advertiser. Yesterday’s results wouldn’t be possible without groups like the Women’s Political Council, the Dallas County Voters League, Rufus Lewis’ Citizens Club and the Alabama Democratic Conference pushing for black participation in local and state politics, he said.

The election of the city’s first black mayor is a legacy of decades of struggle for civil rights. It comes six decades after Fred Gray, Rufus Lewis, Johnnie Carr, Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin, and other courageous residents launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott, facing arrests, bombings, and attacks to end segregation in this city.

Mr. Reed will be sworn in 54 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands of marchers from Selma to the Capitol, compelling Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act, which provided tools to dismantle a system that relied on poll taxes, “literacy tests,” intimidation, and violence to prevent African Americans from voting.

As the Advertiser observed, “Reed’s win signals a shift in municipal politics where nearly 60 percent of the community is black but the local leadership hasn’t reflected the demographics, a relic of our Jim Crow laws’ impact.”

Mr. Reed told the Advertiser he realized the significance of what his victory would mean when he met with Fred Gray, the preeminent civil rights attorney who has fought for equality in Alabama for decades.

“I take that with a great deal of humility and a great deal of responsibility, what that means to so many people who have been a part of Montgomery who have lived here and left here because of the racial terror they underwent and moved far, far away,” Mr. Reed said before the election. “And what it means to the people who stayed here and continue to chip away and who definitely want to see someone in this position that looks like them.”

“I’m just glad to see Montgomery get to a point where there is hope and the possibility,” Mr. Gray told the Advertiser.