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  • Donald V. Watkins

Doyal Reed: Birmingham’s Last Warrior

Updated: May 3, 2019


By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on April 29, 2019


He has been a close friend, trusted advisor, and staunch ally for more than three decades. He has never flinched on the battlefield. He is keenly aware of the various personalities on Birmingham, Alabama’s political scene. He also knows who will “buck dance” for Birmingham’s traditional power-players, and who will not.

As a youngster who grew up in the Powderly Hill community of Birmingham and who marched as a child with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth during their 1963 “Birmingham Campaign,” this man has been an advocate for equal opportunity, economic justice, and the fair administration of criminal justice since childhood. Like the other children who marched in the “Birmingham Campaign,” this man was willing to risk his life as a child for the betterment of his community, city, and state.


His name is Doyal Reed. He is 6’4” tall, smart, tough, and fearless. He has a backbone of steel and a heart of gold. Doyal is Birmingham's last warrior for economic justice. At 66-years-old, Doyal shows no sign of letting up any time soon.


Doyal Reed graduated from Wenonah High School in 1971, where he served as president of the student government association during his junior and senior years in high school. In 1975, Doyal graduated from Alabama A&M University (AAMU) with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration.


After graduating from AAMU, Doyal worked as an in-house accountant for Dr. Richard Arrington, Jr. at the Alabama Center for Higher Education. He then served as a co-campaign manager and political advisor to Dr. Arrington in his successful quest to become Birmingham's first black mayor. Doyal helped Mayor Arrington win a total of five terms as mayor.


While working with the Arrington administration, Doyal Reed, Harold Gilchrist, and Myrtis Myles opened the doors of economic opportunity for hundreds of minorities in Birmingham by forming a minority enterprise small business investment company (MESBIC). This government-chartered venture firm provided much needed access to capital to bona fide minority-owned businesses. During the MESBIC’s five-year run in the late 1980s and early 1990s, minority business owners were able to qualify for and win hundreds of millions of dollars in city, county, and private sector contracts for goods and services.


While promoting economic empowerment for companies participating in his MESBIC program, Doyal Reed never sought credit for his work. Likewise, Doyal never sought to cash-in on his personal and political relationship with Arrington or any other politician.


Doyal Reed only cared about achieving positive results for Birmingham residents and local businesses by: (a) providing minorities a fair shot at competing for government and private sector contracts for goods and services, (b) improving the quality of education in Birmingham public schools, and (c) making sure Birmingham city government delivered all seven basic city services to each one of the city's ninety-nine designated neighborhoods and communities.


When I became Mayor Arrington’s special counsel in 1985, Doyal was fighting for disadvantaged businesses that wanted to contribute to the city's economic growth. He was fixated on improving the quality of life for those who never had a shot at competing on a level playing field.


When a three-person delegation from Birmingham’s big banks visited Doyal Reed and Harold Gilchrist at their investment banking firm in the late 1980s and told them to distance themselves from Dr. Arrington and me because we were pushing too hard for fair lending practices, economic empowerment, and community reinvestment, Doyal did not do so. Instead, on the next day, Doyal prominently displayed photographs of Dr. Arrington and me on the walls of his office for all visitors to see.

Doyal Reed has always made two things very clear to everyone: First, he does not trade old friends for new ones. Second, no man/woman can intimidate him or cause him to become less than a man.


To Doyal Reed, hard work, honesty, true friendship, courage, and dedication to cause of equal opportunity and the fair administration of justice are principled goals and personal attributes, whether they are appreciated by all segments of Birmingham society, or not.


Ironically, many of the individuals who serve in Birmingham city government today, including Birmingham's mayor and most of the city’s council members, do not seem to care about economic empowerment for minority and women-owned businesses. They appear to be satisfied with the status quo.


For reasons that are difficult for me to understand, today’s city officials have achieved far less economic empowerment for minority business enterprises than Doyal Reed accomplished with his MESBIC during a five-year period in the late 1980s and early 1990s when every move toward economic justice was met with massive resistance from the entrenched “Good Ol’ Boy” power structure that ran Birmingham for most of the 20th century.

Earlier this month, Doyal Reed brought to my attention that the mayor, council, and park board members fumbled a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to partner with Major League Baseball (MLB). Doyal was shocked at the way all of these city officials bowed down to the wishes of one council member -- Council President Valerie Abbott. Councilor Abbott’s opposition to MLB’s planned project at George Ward Park caused Mayor Randall Woodfin, the other 8 council members, and all five park board members to get on their knees, crawl towards Abbott, and willingly surrender the political interests of their constituents in the MLB project to her.


As I have discussed in my five previous articles, MLB planned to invest $10 million in the construction of four full-size baseball fields and a world-class Youth Baseball Academy at George Ward Park. The project would have placed Birmingham on the world map for something other than the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four little girls and the shocking images of Bull Connor using firehoses and police dogs to attack peaceful civil rights demonstrators.


Because of his strong background in economic empowerment, Doyal Reed realized that a partnership with MLB would have given Birmingham a tremendous competitive advantage over cities that do not enjoy such a relationship. After all, MLB is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise that can deliver tangible economic benefits to neighborhood schools, non-profit organizations, local businesses, and civic organizations.


After the MLB debacle, I realized that Doyal Reed is the last warrior for economic justice on the Birmingham political scene. He is a good and decent man who has demonstrated his unwavering commitment to the principles of fair play, economic empowerment, and participatory democracy.


This is why I admire and respect Doyal Reed. This is why we are close friends to this day. This is why I am telling his untold story. It deserves to be told so that Doyal Reed can take his rightful place in the annals of recorded history.


PHOTO: Doyal Reed is Birmingham, Alabama's last warrior for economic justice. Reed's MESBIC produced more economic empowerment for Birmingham businesses in a five-year period during the late 1980s and early 1990s than all city officials and local government-sponsored empowerment programs have achieved during the last 25-years.


© 2020 by Donald V. Watkins, P.C.