December 05th, 2023

Mason’s daughter recalls her father’s efforts for the ‘underdog’

Mason to be honored Saturday at 1 p.m. at Mahuron Park with proclamation in his honor

Jack Taylor, left, and Richard Mason share a laugh in 2012 while visiting at the Liberal Memorial Library. Both men were 77 in this photo and had been friends for years, despite being at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Both have since passed, but they knew through their friendship, putting petty politics aside was the way to move the community forward. Mason’s efforts to reduce racism helped create a community dedicated to diversity. L&T file photo/Rachel Coleman

• Leader & Times

Richard Mason worked to make life better for those who weren’t getting fair treatment, and his daughter Pepper Mason grew up watching her father become an advocate that helped changed the culture of a community.
“I was very young when all of this first began,” Pepper said. “My earliest memory was when I wasn’t even 5-years-old, and my dad became involved with the school board. He ran because of the things happening to black children at Washington Elementary.”
The era was the early 1970s, and in Liberal, all black children attended one elementary school despite desegregation. “There were so many things children were subjected to, and when his own children went through it, my dad became an advocate for all children.”
Richard didn’t live on the east side of Liberal where Washington Elementary was located. Instead, he lived close to McKinley Elementary, and he wanted his daughters to go to that school.
“We integrated the West side of town,” Pepper said. “Monique and I were the first black children at McKinley. It was a big thing, there were school board meetings, and they said they would bus us across to Washington. Dad said, ‘No, McKinley School was out the door and down the sidewalk.’ That was the beginning. It was an uphill battle. There was always a phone call from someone, some injustice to a child or a person, and my dad became the go-to for those in a crisis.”
And Richard didn’t just listen — he went to work to right a wrong, and over time, his influence made a difference.
“Things changed for the better for the children at Washington Elementary,” Pepper said. “The mistreatment began to lessen, and there were fewer phone calls coming in. When something happened to someone’s child, Dad would go with that parent to the school. If another member of the community faced some crisis, he didn’t just make phone calls, he went with them. He even made calls outside of Liberal to the Southern Christian Leadership Committee, and Jesse Jackson was part of that.”
Through his efforts, Richard started to change the attitudes and minds by defending those who were not being treated fairly, and he took on other projects to make sure minority neighborhoods had quality amenities that other parts of Liberal enjoyed.
“Mahuron Park was one of his endeavors, and affordable housing apartments,” Pepper said. “We were able to, in my generation, not have to face what my older sisters faced. By my teenage years, things mellowed out. We went to school and enjoyed life like everyone else.”
Pepper was part of the last graduating class at the old Liberal High School in 1983, and she now lives in Houston near her sister Monique. Pepper has continued to be an advocate with a focus on abused children, still sharing her “father’s fire.”
Richard passed away Oct. 7, 2017, but his legacy of seeking respect for everyone in Liberal continues.
“I am simply proud to be his daughter, and I am proud of his advocacy for the underdog,” she said. “And I’m proud of his legacy he left behind. The younger generations may not know his name, but their parents and grandparent do. Were it not for him they would not have the freedom and flexibility they have today. My father’s handprint is on all of that. I am very proud.”
Liberal Mayor Connie Seigrist has declared Saturday to be Richard Mason Day in Liberal, and a special proclamation will be read at 1 p.m. during the Juneteenth celebration at the Mahuron Park Building. The public is invited to attend the reading and the day’s festivities.