Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin described the Jan. 6 Capitol insurgency as a time when people “identified themselves as white supremacists,” which he said the country must acknowledge.
“To move the country forward, we have to acknowledge the pain it caused, have accountability and move forward,” he said during a livestreamed interview by Karen Attiah, global opinions editor for the Washington Post.
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed described the insurrectionists as people who felt they could get close enough to use deadly force. The terrorists exhibited “a level of privilege, entitlement and outright brazenness,” he added.
The two black mayors, whose cities represent the cradle and battlegrounds of the Civil Rights movement from the 1950s to the present day, were interviewed during a Facebook Live event by Karen Attiah, the global opinions editor of the Washington Post, on Friday, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
Woodfin said his reaction to the takeover of the Capitol was anger. “The president took the time to record a video to say, ‘We love you,’ to people who committed acts of terrorism. Reckoning needs to be addressed. They say they were caught up in the moment — no. It was planned.”
Reed said he is concerned about Biden’s inauguration Wednesday and reports of potential trouble at individual state capitals this weekend through the inauguration.
He said his city has taken precautions since protesters entered the Michigan state capitol at Lansing in April. “It was a wake-up call for us. The threat to the governor and other lawmakers became more serious,” he said.
Montgomery has prepared even more since the U.S. Capitol takeover, with precautions extended to municipal and federal buildings and at Civil Rights sites.
He called how the Capitol takeover was handled ironic. “In the course of the history of other marches, what would have happened then?
“The insurgents deserve the maximum penalty for their desecration of democracy along with everyone who was accountable, such as lawmakers,” Reed said.
He specifically mentioned Alabama state Rep. Mo Brooks, who spoke during a planned rally before the protest and exhorted the crowd to action. “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!’’ Brooks shouted.
Both mayors said racial inequalities still exist in our culture, and the upcoming Biden administration will have to forge a new type of reconstruction to get America where it needs to be.
“There are still overwhelming acts of injustice in America, and it is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy that we are still fighting for,” Woodfin said.
Reed said the country’s rebuilding and healing cannot go forward without atonement “and we need to make that clear.”
He said Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris must provide “stability and truthfulness, a new type of reconstruction to get America where we need to be.”
Both mayors attended Atlanta’s Morehouse College, as did King, and said they were influenced by the Civil Rights’ leader’s legacy.
Woodfin described Morehouse as a small academically rigorous “college on a red clay hill where leadership meets community service.”
Reed’s father, Joe L. Reed, was the first black elected to the Montgomery City Council, in 1975. The mayor said his father told his brother when he was considering colleges that if Morehouse “is good enough for Martin Luther King, then it is good enough for you.” Reed followed his brother to Morehouse.
Reed said he saw running for mayor “as a way to change outcomes and for the mayor to be the thermostat not the thermometer.”
Reed is the first black elected mayor in the history of Montgomery, the first capital of the Confederate States of America. It also was home to Rosa Parks, who prompted a boycott of city buses after she refused to give up her bus seat to a white person and was arrested.
Woodfin said King’s famous letter from the Birmingham Jail was written during a time when black people were relegated to second-class citizen status.
He said “overwhelming acts of injustice” to blacks in America still exist, such as the death of George Floyd, the carnage of the pandemic, economic inequities and recent attempts at voter suppression.”
“We are still fighting injustice,” Woodfin said
Woodin said the clear way to remember MLK is as “a genuine activist, organizer and planner.
We don’t know a lot of what happened behind the scenes during the Civil Rights movement, he added. “But we can appreciate the real work that had to be done. He pushed the White House and the Department of Justice to do the right thing.”
He said that, even though King’s speeches are still quoted, “he wasn’t rooted in speeches. He was rooted in organizing and moving people.”
Reed agreed. He said King was hated by 60% of white America at the time. He said quotes from King have been “sanitized” to capture just some of his speeches.
“But there were other speeches, books and sermons about economic inequality. We view King as a reluctant leader at age 26.
“How he grew and the things he saw … . We have to see him in a complete frame not just from snippets.”