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Montgomery, Ala., Was a Hub of the Slave Trade and a Center of the Civil Rights Movement. It's About to Swear in Its First Black Mayor

Hanging on the wall in Steven L. Reed’s old office as Montgomery County’s probate judge was a photo of his father, Joseph L. Reed, sitting next to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at Maggie Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in 1967.

The two men are not merely sitting together by accident. They met in 1960, around the time the elder Reed was at Alabama State University and was put on probation for participating in a Feb. 25, 1960, sit-in at the Montgomery County Courthouse’s segregated restaurant. They kept up in touch as Reed went on to become president of Alabama State Teachers Association, an African-American teachers organization that merged with its all-white counterpart in 1969.

So Steven L. Reed is well acquainted with Montgomery’s civil rights history. And on Tuesday, 50 years after his father was involved in that step toward desegregation, Reed will be sworn in as the first African-American mayor in the predominantly African-American city’s 200-year history. Reed beat David Woods, a white TV-station owner, by carrying 67% of the vote on Oct. 8, according to preliminary election results.

“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,” Reed tells TIME, “and the hope it has given people that we will progress to a New South.”

The historical significance of Reed’s win can be seen within about a 10-minute walk of his new office in City Hall.

The city was christened Montgomery in 1819, in honor of Revolutionary War General Richard Montgomery, and became Alabama’s capital in 1846. With access to steamboats and railroads, as well as proximity to fertile agricultural regions, it soon became a key transport hub through which bales of cotton were shipped on their way south to Mobile and then on to mills overseas. It was thus also a nexus for the transport of human cargo, and one of the biggest slave-trading hubs in the antebellum United States.

By 1859, there were as many slave depots in Montgomery as there were hotels and banks. Kidnapped men and women were marched up Commerce Street in chains to the slave auction house or one of the four slave depots — all within a few blocks of Reed’s new office in City Hall. At the beginning of the Civil War, the city’s slave population was larger than those of major ports New Orleans and Natchez, Miss.

Read entire article at Time