Tennessee comptrollers racist hostile takeover of a Black town may fail

(MSNBC) - Mason, Tennessee, a predominantly African American town of about 1,500, should benefit from the construction of a $5.6 billion Ford plant planned nearby.

Tennessee comptrollers racist hostile takeover of a Black town may fail

Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower, a white Republican, took a step back Tuesday from his racist plan to essentially erase from the map Mason, Tennessee, a predominantly African American town of about 1,500 that stands to benefit from the construction of a $5.6 billion Ford plant planned nearby. Accusing Mason of 20 years of financial mismanagement, Mumpower threatened to block town leaders from spending more than $100 without his say so and sent property owners in town a letter arguing that “government is not working in Mason.”

“In my opinion, it’s time for Mason to relinquish its charter,” he said.

But according to the Tennessee Lookout, on Tuesday, after what he called a “very positive meeting” with Mason officials, Mumpower acknowledged the steps they’ve taken to get out of debt and said his office’s financial oversight could end as soon as July. But Mumpower’s statement that oversight could end soon doesn’t eliminate the stench of racism that’s accompanied his dealings with the town. His demand that Mason surrender its charter was reminiscent of historical expropriation of African American land and resources by white political leaders and landowners.

“People try to tap-dance around it but the truth is this is happening because of who we are,” Virginia Rivers, the vice mayor of Mason, a Black woman, told the Tennessee Lookout before Tuesday's meeting.

“This is our home. We were born and raised here. The majority of the town is homegrown people that live here,” she said. “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.”

In response to Mumpower’s statement that he saw evidence Tuesday that Mason has been paying off its debt, Rivers said that evidence was available from the start, but Mumpower didn’t request it. “He just came in with a demand,” she said.

But according to the Tennessee Lookout, on Tuesday, after what he called a “very positive meeting” with Mason officials, Mumpower acknowledged the steps they’ve taken to get out of debt and said his office’s financial oversight could end as soon as July. But Mumpower’s statement that oversight could end soon doesn’t eliminate the stench of racism that’s accompanied his dealings with the town. His demand that Mason surrender its charter was reminiscent of historical expropriation of African American land and resources by white political leaders and landowners.

“People try to tap-dance around it but the truth is this is happening because of who we are,” Virginia Rivers, the vice mayor of Mason, a Black woman, told the Tennessee Lookout before Tuesday's meeting.

“This is our home. We were born and raised here. The majority of the town is homegrown people that live here,” she said. “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.”

In response to Mumpower’s statement that he saw evidence Tuesday that Mason has been paying off its debt, Rivers said that evidence was available from the start, but Mumpower didn’t request it. “He just came in with a demand,” she said.

Mason is 60 percent Black and heavily Democratic. If the city is disbanded, residents will only belong to Tipton County, where 75 percent of residents are white and 71 percent voted Republican in the 2020 presidential election.

Mason was founded in 1869 and is home to many whose ancestors were enslaved in the area. Since the Civil War, Black communities (in similar fashion to the Indigenous communities before them) have been destroyed with a range of methods including including violence, dishonest legal maneuvering and even the construction of freeways. Only recently was the beachfront property in Manhattan Beach, California, taken from Willa and Charles Bruce in 1924 through eminent domain returned to their descendants. While the situation in Mason is different, it was still an attempted takeover of that which belongs to African Americans.

What is the right of a city to exist? Does the answer change if the city is predominately African American and about to benefit from a lucrative business enterprise bringing money and jobs?

What’s happening in Tennessee is disturbing. The state has already been making regrettable policy decisions related to what subjects should be taught in school and how the state should address the pandemic. Combined with the hostility shown to Mason, Tennessee is looking less like a site for a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant for Ford’s electric trucks and more like a state that’s just emerged from the Civil War.

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