In the ‘60s Nashville had a strong Black voice in the community that was intent upon helping to advance the education and well being of her fellow man.
The late Thelma G. Mason, was born one of 16 children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Jan. 31, 1920. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in business administration. After marriage to the late Tessie Mason of Athens, Ga., they moved to Nashville, Tenn.
Upon settling in Nashville, Mason began her professional career at the Sunday School Publishing Board where her business was later conceived. When two young ladies observed her typing, they asked if she would teach them. And thus her skills were shared with many. In September of 1959, she started teaching typing on the back porch of her home in North Nashville. Her school was officially started as the word spread that Black people could receive exceptional training opportunities by obtaining office skills.
As the students increased, their interest in learning other skills increased also. At that time additional curriculum was added, including: shorthand, typing, English and accounting. Shorthand was taught in the kitchen, typing in the living room, English and bookkeeping in the bedroom, etc.
When it was obvious that her home had become too small, she had a small shell adjacent to her house constructed, then later two additional rooms. She then became the owner and founder of Mason’s School of Business.
In 1965, Mrs. Mason recognized that some students needed care for their children while attending school. Therefore, she opened Mason’s Daycare Center at 3315 Park Avenue.
Mason began to experience a barrage of obstacles when schools became integrated. There was a focus on the school by White authorities, mainly the Veterans Administration, because they became concerned when White veterans expressed interest in attending the college. This led to a federal investigation. The late attorney Carlton Petway assisted Mason in Washington, D.C. and aided in resolving the problem.
After being in business for many years at the same location, the Codes Administration decreed that Mrs. Mason could not have two ‘houses’ on one lot. It was then that Mason’s School of Business moved into a quarter million dollar building located a 1917 Heiman Street, in 1976.
In 1989, the illness of her husband caused her to close the school.
After serving the community for over 30 years, it is estimated that approximately 5,000 students received training through Mason’s Business College. Because of the preparation they received through the school, many students went forward to become successful educators, entrepreneurs, business professionals, political and public servants, and ministers. The college not only educated and trained students, but also served as a placement center for students to be hired by corporations in non-traditional roles. They were the first minorities to be hired by South Central Bell and Commerce Union Bank, the state, federal and metro governments and other businesses. Some of Mason’s protégés include: Evelyn Lee, who was the first minority student hired by Delta Airlines as a flight attendant; and Doris Hurt, who was the first minority student to enter the Miss Nashville Beauty Pageant.
Mason died February 10, 2002.