The tiny, majority Black town of Mason, Tennessee is under fierce and direct pressure from the state's white comptroller to dissolve its own 153-year-old charter and allow itself to be absorbed into the larger, majority white, majority Republican surrounding Tipton county, right after Ford announced they would build EVs there.
March 16, 2022

Whoever said "history rhymes" neglected to mention the poem is a lament. The song is a dirge.

Overly dramatic? If you think so, take your place among those who have some work to do. For starters, look at what's happening right now in Mason, Tennessee.

The Tennessee Lookout is reporting that the tiny, majority Black town is under fierce and direct pressure from the state's white comptroller to dissolve its own 153-year-old charter and allow itself to be absorbed into the larger, majority white, majority Republican surrounding Tipton county. Why? Three guesses, and if the first two aren't racism and money, you're disqualified.

From the Lookout:

Mason, located in the southeastern corner of Tipton County, now finds itself with some of the most coveted real estate in Tennessee.

It’s one of the nearest towns to the massive new site to be built for Blue Oval City, a key component in Ford Motor Co’s multibillion-dollar pivot to electric vehicle manufacturing.

The town of Mason stands to benefit economically from a boon of jobs and investment all around it, 27,000 new jobs and $25 million in state taxes, to give you a ballpark idea. Ford is estimating 33,000 new workers will need housing for the plant. Tennessee's Comptroller Jason Mumpower (white, Republican) just doesn't think Mason can handle it. He doesn't think they're up for the task.

“Government isn’t working for the people who live in Mason now and people and companies are not going to invest in Mason,” said the white man.

Oh, really.

“The opportunity for growth is at their doorstep and I don’t want the people of Mason to lose that opportunity,” insisted Mumpower. “They are about to be bypassed if their city leaders don’t make responsible decisions.”

Awwww. His concern is so moving. So paternalistic. He just wants what's best for these Black folks, right? Isn't that sweet?

“I’m not sure there’s a full understanding of operating a town,” Mumpower said.

Just trying to help, he is. Because Black people don't understand how to run a town. See?

Oh, and don't dare suggest the motivations are minutely rooted in the issue of race. That will just hurt his feelings. The town's Vice Mayor mentioned the possibility, and Mumpower responded, "It’s offensive and difficult to respond to such a short-sighted comment as that."

Gee, white people are so, so fragile. Poor things.

Except the reason the town is under water, having fiscal issues, is that it was run by corrupt and incompetent white people until 2015, despite the fact the town is 60% Black and majority Democratic. Nearly the entire town council was forced to resign in 2016, and was replaced by Black residents. Again, from the Lookout:

Mason is 60% Black and includes descendants of men, women and children enslaved in the area before Emancipation. For more than a century the town was led by White elected officials.

That changed in 2016, when fraud and mismanagement allegations led to the resignations of nearly all City Hall officials, all of whom were White. Mason’s current mayor, vice mayor and five of its six alderman are Black.

...

And since then, Rivers said, city officials have worked to pare the town’s debt that accrued during prior administrations while planning for a future with parks, paved streets, a new codes department, infrastructure improvements and beautification projects. In the past three years, city finance officials have completed five of its past-due financial audits. By the end of this year, they expect to be caught up.

But suddenly, NOW, Mumpower is concerned about the city leaders making responsible decisions? GTFOH. How many times, HOW MANY, do Democrats have to come in behind corrupt, criminal Republicans to clean up their messes? How many times in history have Black people had to come in behind white people to fix what they broke? And what do they get for their trouble? An ultimatum.

That's right, Mumpower wrote to residents directly — something his spokesperson said is unprecedented — to pressure their leaders to cede Mason's charter, "bringing Mason under the authority of the Tipton County government – or the Comptroller’s office will take full financial control, overseeing the town’s budget with the authority to approve any expenditure of $100 or more."

God forbid Black folks take control of their property, their government, their lives, their economic development, and against all odds, begin to see the benefits of it, before white people come in threatening to take it all away.

This is not new, though - if you haven't read Elie Mystal's new book, "Allow Me To Retort - A Black Guy's Guide To The Constitution" (and you should...) at least read this chapter published in the Nation on the taking of Black land and eminent domain.

We learn more than we deserve to be taught for free, but specifically, we're reminded that Robert Moses destroyed the Black town of Seneca Village to build Central Park because two rich white familes — TWO — couldn't be bothered to sell their SECOND homes on the Upper East Side. We learn that there is actually a moment in time where Clarence Thomas was correct about something, and it had to do with the notion that eminent domain did not cover government simply getting a good deal on land for economic or business development. And we learn:

Declaring a community “blighted” or a home “condemned” is a favorite trick of the government when it wants to avoid paying just compensation for the land it takes. It’s what Moses did, repeatedly, throughout New York City in the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s, and into the ’60s. Moses would target a community, have state assessors declare it a “slum,” and acquire the land through eminent domain at cut-rate prices. And it’s a method many cities and states would copy under the guise of “urban renewal.”

Look what's happening in Mason. Mumpower may not be declaring the town of Mason "blighted," but he's branding its leaders as fiscally and logistically unfit to carry out the anticipated weight of massive new development and opportunity coming their way. It's all of a piece. Same wolf, different sheep's clothing. One way or another, racists are playing the same old song.

Let Vice Mayor Virginia Richards have the last word.

“This is our home. We were born and raised here. The majority of the town is homegrown people that live here. He is trying to conquer and divide us. It’s akin to a hostile take-over and it’s not hard to figure out why here, why now.”

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