Residents of Mason listen at a recent community meeting. Charlane Oliver of The Equity Alliance writes that the proposed state takeover of Mason is part of a pattern of discrimination against Black leaders. (Photo: John Partipilo)
What no one is saying out loud about Mason, Tenn. is there’s a racist pattern of targeting Black leadership in this state that goes back decades. The hostility has been followed up with violence. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and Elbert Williams, a leader of the Brownsville NAACP, was lynched not far from Mason.
State-sanctioned hostile takeovers are the name of the game when the white power establishment feels threatened by competent Black leaders. They did it to my kids’ pediatrician Dr. Eddie Hamilton—an influential power player in Nashville—accusing him of Medicaid fraud.
They publicly lynched Dr. Shawn Joseph, former Superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who was shaking things up with equitable practices and ran him up out of Tennessee. They’ve done it to Dr. Joseph Webb, CEO of Nashville General Hospital, accusing him of mismanagement of funds.
They put a hit piece out on Gideon’s Army, a nationally recognized nonprofit working to curb youth violence, last fall to discredit the organization’s research on Driving While Black and criticize Rasheedat Fetuga and her violence interruption program for daring to ask the city for $1 million to cure violence. At the top of Black History Month, the State Senate didn’t hesitate to expel Memphis Senator Katrina Robinson—the first expulsion in the Senate’s history.
Governor Bill Lee, former House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and all their cronies at the state legislature have been itching to take out Nashville and Memphis public schools—both run by Black leaders who manage the two largest districts in the state. They’ve threatened to withhold funds during the COVID-19 pandemic and are now stripping funds from the new proposed BEP formula.
Activist leaders have been targeted, including my organization, The Equity Alliance, after we submitted 91,000 voter registration forms ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s legislation threatened us with criminal felonies and astronomical fines if we made mistakes on forms; this law was later repealed by a federal judge. Justin Jones has been targeted and arrested countless times for protesting at the Capitol, with the latest 60-day-long protest resulting in the Tennessee legislature making it a felony to camp overnight outside the Capitol.
Most recently, Black Lives Matter activist Pamela Moses was sentenced to six years in prison for attempting to register to vote as a formerly incarcerated person. Her conviction was later overturned and she was granted a new trial.
Those are just the latest cases I could think of. I’m sure there are more that go unseen.
The way our state bullies Black leaders is rooted in this notion that we are incapable and incompetent of managing million dollar budgets, negotiating deals, leading institutions, and knowing what’s best for our people. Institutionalized racism and authoritarianism is running rampant.
Mason, Tenn. is just the latest casualty in their crosshairs. But Black people have always seen it for what it is and the community has their back. Organizing on the ground and shining light on this hostile takeover is how we win and keep Mason intact for them to govern themselves.
These same white supremacist bullies turn a blind eye to corruption in their own party and state government bc they’re too busy being racist. The white leaders who caused Mason’s financial woes didn’t have to clean up their own mess. Black leaders are being blamed for what they inherited.
The Equity Alliance, a statewide Tennessee nonprofit social justice advocacy organization, stands in solidarity with the people of Mason in their fight to maintain the town’s 153-year-old charter and full financial autonomy. Mason is on the cusp of booming economic growth in the form of a Ford Motor electric vehicle site. We must empower— not remove or scapegoat—Black leadership as they work to right the wrongs done by previous corrupt administrations prior to Mason’s first Black mayor, Gwendolyn Kilpatrick, taking the helm in 2015.
This is why it’s so important to be politically engaged. In Tennessee, the Comptroller, Secretary of State, and Attorney General are all appointed positions but are wreaking the most havoc. Their power is insulated by the State Legislature and Tennessee Supreme Court to do their bidding.
Mason should not have to fight this battle alone. Picking on the little guy is an abuse of power and government overreach. The Equity Alliance will obstruct, disrupt and call out those who stand to benefit from Mason’s plight.
(To contact The Equity Alliance go to [email protected].)
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