Mason, Tennessee, a majority Black, majority Democratic Party town, is fighting to protect its sovereignty from white conservatives.
The town, whose population of 1,510 is almost 72 percent Black, has been in dire financial straits for the last few years. In a Republican-led effort to take control of the economy, a deal has been made with Ford Motor Company to bring a massive $5.6 billion electric truck and battery plant to an area about five miles from town.
Ford said its new mega campus called BlueOval City in nearby Stanton, Tenn., will create 6,000 new jobs.
The Black residents of Mason could stand to benefit, but if the town is forced to relinquish financial control, many Black local leaders doubt the benefits will come to the citizens. If they give up their charter, as they are being forced to do, the current Black leaders will not control the town’s budget. The state comptroller, a white Republican, would control it and the town would be folded into another.
For many, the battle is reminiscent of “the exploitative sharecropping arrangements from the post-Civil War era, when white power brokers ensnared Black planters in deals that funneled most of the profits into white hands,” wrote Ja’han Jones, author of The ReidOut Blog.
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In a letter dated March 3, Tennessee State Comptroller Jason Mumpower, a Republican, informed Mason residents that it was time for the town to relinquish its charter.
“Mason is at a critical point in its history, and I am concerned about its future. In my opinion, it’s time for Mason to relinquish its charter,” he wrote.
He continued, “For at least 20 years, the town government has been poorly managed. We have been told the problems are getting fixed for years, but the facts tell a different story. Audits have been late, budgets have not been approved, major infrastructure needs have been ignored, and fraud has taken place…just to name a few issues. Due to financial mismanagement, the Town of Mason finds itself in a deep hole.”
The answer, Mumpower wrote, is the town must relinquish its 153-year-charter to make way for a proposed Ford plant.
“The construction of the new Ford plant in West Tennessee could offer hope to your community, but I worry that these opportunities will be missed if you remain an incorporated town. New jobs, infrastructure improvements, and economic investments are made in places with a track record of good government,” Mumpower wrote.
If the town agrees, Mason will be placed under the control of the Republican-dominated Tipton County. If the town refuses, Mumpower said his office will take control, MSNBC reported.
Mason’s part-time elected officials have vowed to save their town.
“This is our home. We were born and raised here. The majority of the town is homegrown people that live here,” Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers told The Patch. “He is trying to conquer and divide us. It’s akin to a hostile takeover, and it’s not hard to figure out why here, why now.”
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For more than a century, Mason was led by white elected officials until 2016, when fraud and mismanagement allegations led to the mass resignations of nearly all its city hall officials, all of whom were white. Mason’s current mayor, its vice-mayor, and five of its six aldermen are Black. Mayor Emmit Gooden was arrested in March 2021 for DUI and violating the state’s open container and registration laws, Action News 5 reported. Gooden has been the mayor since 2018.
“It’s because of the Black people that are in office,” said Rivers, who took office in 2021. “And it’s because of all the places in the world, Blue Oval could have been selected, they selected here. There’s no way Mason won’t prosper and grow. And now they want to take it away from us.”
Photo: In this Nov. 6, 2014 photo, Michael Jackson works on a welding machine on the assembly line of the new Ford F-150 truck at the Dearborn Truck Plant in Dearborn, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)