What happened when a Black Tennessee town faced a state takeover

When Mason, Tennessee, faced losing its ability to govern its own finances in a fight with white state officials earlier this year, doing so brought a spotlight to the majority Black community of fewer than 1,600 people for a situation that town advocates called discriminatory.

For months, Mason battled for its own financial control after the town refused to give up its charter, prompting the state to formally take over its finances shortly after carmaker Ford announced a major project nearby. But in May, Mason officials dropped a lawsuit they brought to Tennessee’s Chancery Court against state officials, after agreeing to more favorable terms, signaling the lengthy feud between the town and the state over racial discrimination and autonomy is coming to an end.

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The majority Black town, represented in court by the NAACP, announced during a press conference last month that it would regain its independence, while also reaping the benefits of the nearby economic development opportunity coming to the region.

The conflict started in February when Mason faced a stark choice: forfeit its right to self-governance in exchange for debt forgiveness, or retain control and have to immediately start paying off almost $600,000 in debt it couldn’t afford.

The decision, forced on the town by Jason Mumpower, the state’s comptroller, came soon after the announcement that the Ford plant would be built nearby, slated to open in 2025. The project is expected to bring $1.8 billion to the state and create 18,000 jobs. Mason, the town closest to the plant with a sewer and wastewater system that the plant would use, will be one of its biggest beneficiaries financially. This is one reason why, according to Mason Vice Mayor Virginia Rivers, the town chose to take on the debt in March.

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