(Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
Steven Reed was elected in a runoff, garnering 67 percent of the vote — a landslide. In the city’s 200 year history, Reed is the first Black person to be elected mayor and so naturally, there is a question of how his victory will directly impact Black owned businesses. According to a study by NerdWallet, nearly one third of Montgomery area businesses are Black owned. Nationally, the study ranked the Montgomery area as the second-best place in the country for Black owned businesses. The table is set for Reed to have a monumental impact and create, perhaps, a national model of what a Black Wall Street looks like today.
The newly-elected Black mayor will work very closely with the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s Chairman is Willie Durham, who also happens to be Black. All of this is unlikely, especially given the city’s history. Montgomery was the first capital of the Confederate States of America. It was the scene of the most famous bus boycott in world history and it was in Montgomery that newly-elected Governor George Wallace proudly proclaimed in his 1963 inaugural address, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever!” Wallace made his proclamation from the very same spot Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the President of the Confederacy. But demographics matter, ultimately — Montgomery has roughly 200,000 residents and 60 percent of them are Black.
The power of the Black vote has positioned Reed to lead the city. With over 100,000 Black residents, Montgomery has a customer base sufficient to support the Black owned businesses located there. The city already has an unemployment rate below the national average and thanks to wise investments by past leaders, Montgomery also has a thriving tech and startup scene. Reed is stepping onto a platform that is unique in America, from which he can leave a lasting legacy. Reed has an opportunity to use his office to help steer resources to Black owned companies, much like Maynard Jackson, Richard Hatcher and Marion Barry did in the past. Montgomery could very well become America’s new Black Wall Street.
Political power doesn’t necessarily translate into economic power. A large Black consumer base doesn’t always translate into a large customer base for Black businesses, either. What the mayor-elect has is promise and potential, in a city where all the building blocks are there for a thriving and dynamic Black Wall Street. Whether Black wealth is created during his tenure is a question he and all of Black Montgomery must answer for future generations.