Monday, July 6, 2020

Former bastion of slavery in the United States, the city of Montgomery installs its first black mayor

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At the important dates in the history of Montgomery, we must add that of November 12, 2019: it is this day that took office the first black mayor of this southern city of the United States, symbol of segregation. Three things to know about Steven Reed, the new Democratic mayor of the city.

Although he is described in the US as a novice in politics, Steven Reed, 45, does not come out of nowhere. His father, Joseph L. Reed, became one of Montgomery's first black city councilors in 1975, fifteen years after being arrested in a civil rights sit-in and after meeting Martin Luther King on the occasion. He later took the helm of the Alabama Democratic Conference, the oldest black political organization in the state.

This commitment exposes the family to pressure, according to Steven Reed's brother, Joe, quoted by the local newspaper Montgomery Advertiser before the election, who says he remembers hearing death threats before his 10th birthday:

"People were calling home and saying all kinds of crazy things, bad things. "

As a young adult, Steven Reed chose to study at Morehouse University in Atlanta, Georgia. He plays a cornerback (defender) "Undersized"which contrasts with the templates of the rest of the football team, but especially, he studies on the benches that used before him Martin Luther King and Maynard Jackson, elected first black mayor of Atlanta in 1974.

"Hit hard by (a) formula (Barack Obama)"

His career shifted to politics in 2007. That year, a young senator elected two years earlier in Illinois spoke on civil rights in a church in Selma, near Montgomery:

"If you know your story, then you know that the ambition to fight only for money is pretty poor (…). You must fulfill your existence by thinking of others. "

Whoever speaks this is none other than Barack Obama, and Steven Reed said, in the long portrait that devoted to him the magazine Time November 11, that he had been "Hit hard by this formula".

Five years later, he became the first black elected local judge in Montgomery, his hometown. This function gives him the opportunity of a notoriety when, in 2015, he decides to"Ignore" a decision of the Supreme Court of Alabama against same-sex marriages. The United States Supreme Court ruled him right four months later.

In early 2019, he announced his candidacy for mayor of Montgomery and was elected in the second round on October 8, with 67% of the vote.

  • Why is his election so symbolic?

There was a time when, according to the chilling count of the NGO Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, the city had more places devolved to the slave trade than banks and churches. It was in 1860, and the city was a hub of human trafficking in the United States "Antebellum", according to the expression used across the Atlantic to designate the country before the Civil War between the states of the North and those of the South, slavers. Montgomery was the birthplace of the Confederation of Southern States in 1861 and its first capital.

Absolute symbol of the trade in the United States, then of the segregation, the city was also that of the civil rights. It was there, one block from the town hall, that in 1955 Rosa Parks refused to give way to a white man on the bus, which would become a founding moment in the struggle of African Americans for the equality. Here again, in 1961, the Ku Klux Klan attacked a bus of the "passengers of freedom"; there, finally, that arrives in 1965 the march for the civil rights part of Selma.

2018 will also remain a milestone year for memory issues in the city. Two museums dedicated to segregation came out of the earth: the Heritage Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, dedicated to the victims of lynchings and white supremacism. Opened in April, it was expecting 100,000 visitors in one year; this number has been reached in three months.

  • To whom, and to whom, will Steven Reed cope?

Reed's defeated contender in the mayoral race, David Woods, listed the challenges facing the new mayor in his message of encouragement:

"Our school system is broken, our police forces are understaffed and underpaid, our streets are not as safe as they should be, and our economy is threatened by people leaving. "

Above all, intercommunity tensions persist. Witness a message posted by a real estate agent on Facebook after the election of Mr. Reed, calling those who would be disappointed with the result of the vote to sell their home to leave the city as long as the market is " carrier ". Message that has earned him a dismissal.

Blacks and whites are not housed in the same way against the police

Also testifies a local activist, who told the magazine Vice that blacks and whites are not housed in the same sign against the police, for example on a subject as trivial as drunkenness on the public road: tolerance and intransigence can succeed one another "Only one street away", she laments, adding that he remains in Montgomery "Places where we can not go".

At the tumultuous relationship of the inhabitants with their police, the elected mayor devoted a long development in one of his first interviews after his election. It must, he said, "Build a lot more trust between the police and the community, have more agents living in the city, to build a relationship especially with young adults, coaching … to remove the distrust that some may to feel towards the police, and vice versa. "

Montgomery is indeed not spared by the problems of police violence against minorities. On November 18, just six days after Mr. Reed's swearing in, police officer Aaron Cody Smith will be tried for murder after he killed Gregory Gunn in 2016 during a speech in Montgomery. He is white, his victim was black.

Steven Reed's swearing on video:

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