By Jerry Mitchell, executive director, North Alabama African-American Chamber of Commerce (NAAACC)
A few weeks ago, I called (256) 427-5000, in search of one of the city of Huntsville’s departments. The voice on the line said, “Welcome to Huntsville, the Star of Alabama”. Later that day I thought about the statement, “ Star of Alabama”, and what it implies. Huntsville is saying, we are the best of Alabama, we stand out and above the rest of Alabama’s cities, we are different from the rest, we are the leaders.
This has been the mantra since Mayor Tommy Battle replaced Mayor Loretta Spencer, and true enough there is much to highlight in the city of Huntsville from its tremendous economic prowess driven primarily by the federal agency expansion in the area and the burgeoning auto industry growth led by Toyota. Huntsville has become the second largest city in the state and is closing in on number 1.
But what does it really mean to say you are “The Star” in a state consistently ranked near or at the bottom in so many categories nationally? According to a U.S. News’ “Best State Rankings”, released November 2019, using over 70 metrics, Alabama ranked as follows in these key categories:
*50th – Education (The education ranking measures how well states educate students in preschool, K-12 and different levels of higher education.)
*46th – Healthcare (The states were ranked on health care using three road benchmarks: access to care, quality of care and the overall health of the population.)
*45th – Economy (The states’ economies were ranked by measures ranging from employment, business environment and growth.)
*45th – Opportunity for Residents (This ranking measures poverty, housing affordability and equality for women, minorities and people with disabilities.)
*45th – Crime and Corrections (Crime & Corrections ranks states based in public safety and the quality and fairness of their prison systems, including racial bias.)
Is it so great to label yourself a star when competing in an environment that fairs so badly in the overall national spectrum ranking 49th, ahead of only Louisiana and 1 behind Mississippi, and is the 6th poorest state in the U.S.?
Ok so forget national rankings you say, we are still the best of Alabama. Well not so fast. Huntsville has the highest percentage of the 4 largest Alabama cities when looking at the percentage of Homes Receiving Food Stamps: % of Homes Receiving Foods Stamps & City Rank Among 316 Alabama Cities
CITY % of Population w/F. Stamps Rank out of 316 Cities
MOBILE 2.0% 140th
MONTGOMERY 2.3% 158th
BIRMINGHAM 2.5% 172th
HUNTSVILLE 2.8% 186th
And if we were put before judges of Alabama history, are we profoundly different from the rest of the state. We can site that Huntsville integrated its schools in 1963 without much strife, with Dr. Sonnie Hereford’s son breaking the barrier. But in 2020 how many largely segregated public schools do we have on the north and southern parts of the city. Sounds a lot like what exists currently in Montgomery and Mobile. In the star of Alabama, we still have inequity relative to economic development, just visit Northwest and see the lack major commercial and residential development that has continued for DECADES, despite our dynamic economic environment. Go to Montgomery and see the equivalent on their southwest/west sides of town in and around I-65.
And by the way as quite as it is kept, Dr. Hereford’s wife was arrested protesting inequality in 1960’s Huntsville, and there were protests on Wall Street and Washington DC against Huntsville as well. Just as there was an economic boycott in Montgomery centered around transportation, there was a Black boycott in Huntsville on the week leading to Easter that focused on retail spending.
By the way Huntsville had a 18.3% poverty rate overall national rate of 13.9%. That might not sound too bad, but in Alabama’s Star, it is not pretty if you are Black or Hispanic. Compare the rates with national averages:
|RACE||POPULATION||POVERTY RATE||NATIONAL RATE|
Lastly, if Huntsville is truly the Star, the lead city of Alabama, why are we laggards when it comes to removal of Confederate statues. Why are we hiding behind claims of going through a process? Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery didn’t worry about the being fined $25,000 or a lawsuit from the Attorney General, they promptly removed a Confederate statue in Linn Park, statue of Confederate General Lee at a high school, and a prominently featured statue of a Confederate Navy Admiral, respectively in these cities. And guess what, the state of Alabama is not going to put the statues back.
If Huntsville wants to live up to its self-proclaimed title as the “Star of Alabama, economics is but one measurement. Huntsville be a leader and EARN a title as the “All-a-round Star”, not only in Alabama, but this nation.