Mason, Tennessee Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers (left) lines up with supporters determined to help the majority-African-American town address its debt and keep its charter. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

For Mason, Tennessee Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers, preventing the state of Tennessee from taking over the town’s finances is infinitely worthy of a call to action.

She and others in the predominately African-American town of 1,337 in West Tennessee have extended just such a call.

“Coming in and taking over our finances is payback for us not giving up our charter,” Rivers told a group of community activists,” last Saturday (March 26).

“State Comptroller Jason Mumpower came in and demanded that we give up our city charter or ‘face a state takeover.’ But I told him we were going to fight.”

According to Rivers, the state is scheduled to seize control of the town’s spending Monday (April 4).

Organized action is needed to stop the state takeover over Mason, Tennessee’s finances, according to Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers and other Mason supporters. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

In response to the need for “action,” the Tennessee State Conference NAACP organized the launch Saturday (April 2) of a fundraiser set to pivot off a noon rally in front of Mason’s City Hall.

“They’re setting us up for failure. First, Mumpower said we had to make an immediate payment of $22,134. Then, he brought it down to $9,654. If we don’t come up with the money, the state says we can’t pay our bills, Rivers said.

“Any spending over $100 must be approved. We’re running a city, and we will need permission to spend $100.”

State Conference NAACP President Gloria Sweet-Love said, “Mason does matter. … People care about what’s happening in Mason, not only across the state, but around the country.

“We’ve been talking to our chapter presidents, and we want to raise the remaining $250,000 needed to pay off Mason’s deficit.”

Mumpower dialed back the state’s demand for the charter and told the Tennessee State Caucus of Black Legislators last week in a ZOOM meeting that “a plan had been worked out, and roughly $250,000 from American Rescue Plan dollars” would be given to Mason toward the more than $500,000 deficit.

“What Mumpower did not count on was the national media reporting what white Republicans were doing to a little, Black town in Tennessee,” said Rivers.

“Mumpower first came in with about eight more people with him. That was to intimidate me. But I was not intimidated. I told him I would fight to the death before we give up our charter.”

According to U.S. Census figures, 70 percent of the town’s 1,337 residents are African-American. Five of its six aldermen are African-American.

Mumpower admitted to legislators that “the optics was horrible,” after CNN and other cable news outlets blasted the Republican-led administration for demanding the town’s charter so close to Ford Motor Company’s $5.6 billion Blue Oval City electric vehicle project fewer than five miles away.

Door-to-door canvassing is one of the ways being employed to inform Mason residents about state actions. . (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)

Covington, Tennessee Alderman John Edwards joined Rivers at last Saturday’s door-to-door canvassing to inform Mason residents about state actions.

“I’m here because we care what happens in Mason,” said Edwards. “Today, it’s Mason. Tomorrow, it may be Covington. We need Mason to be here.”

Mason Community Task Force member Michael Harris said Mason would never surrender its charter.

“For so long, Mason was majority Black with white elected officials,” said Harris. “But in 2015, we got together and identified people who could run for office. That’s how we got a Black administration. That deficit was much larger, and it was made under the prior white administrations. Our Black elected officials inherited those arrears and have paid it down.”

Mason’s financial woes date back 20 years under a “white mayor,” according to Rivers.

“The state never came to address the deficit under those white mayors,” said Rivers. “This leads many to believe the takeover is racially motivated.”

Harris added, “Mason is like the stepchild of the county. But we are descendants of ex-slave families who settled here in 1865. We survived a brutal sharecropper system.

“This is our town. It’s our land, and we won’t let the state take that from us.”

Part of the team that joined Mason, Tennessee Vice Mayor Virginia last Saturday in door-to-door canvassing to inform Mason residents about state actions. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/The New Tri-State Defender)