Home » Missouri » Memphis

James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.



Basic Information

Type of Place
Independent City or Town
Metro Area
Iowa line
Politics c. 1860?
Don’t Know
Unions, Organized Labor?
Don’t Know

Sundown Town Status

Sundown Town in the Past?
Was there an ordinance?
Don't Know
Don’t Know
Year of Greatest Interest
Still Sundown?

Census Information

The available census data from 1860 to the present
Total White Black Asian Native Hispanic Other BHshld
1960 2106 4
1990 2084 1
2000 2061 0

Method of Exclusion

  • Unknown

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black


Testimony of a resident:
“Scotland County, Memphis, Mo. had black population of three in the 1950s, and one by the early 1960s, if my own memory serves. “Pick”, nicknamed from his surname, had two sisters. Pick did yard work and his sisters cleaned houses. The sisters moved on to Keokuk to be with family and undoubtedly, have better job opportunities, but Pick stayed in Memphis. Local gossip (oral history) said he was a descendant of slaves who stayed on after gaining freedom, but I don’t know whether or not that is true.
Based on what I heard as a child from fellow students, parents, people in stores, and on the streets of Memphis, Missouri, only from 1950 through the 1960s could Memphis be called a sundown town. I do not know about it before that time or after the 1960s….
In the late 1950s or very early 1960s, a black family stopped on the edge of town with car trouble. Some local men gathered quickly to ‘stop the agitators from wrecking the town.’ Even though they found an innocent family instead, they saw fit to “scare them out of town.” It was a “get your car fixed and go” confrontation. I heard that one of the white men even shot a “warning shot” over the car just to make his point clear. My family, and I think most others in town, found their behavior to be mean, ridiculous and embarrassing. I do not recall anyone praising their “raid” on the family….
I did not witness the incident I related. I overheard my father telling my mother about the incident after he heard about it from other men. I remember that my parents expressed open shock and disgust that a group of local Christian white men, whom they thought were good and decent people, could be so heartless as to purposely set out to frighten a stranded black family out of town. The behavior of the white men was described as “stupid and cruel” especially considering that the black family members did not seek to stop in Memphis but were there because their car broke down. My father who had fought in World War II felt that the white men’s behavior was particularly cowardly because they terrorized an innocent family in order to make themselves feel important and powerful. There was no danger and no reason whatsoever to do what they had done.”