Home » Arkansas » Mena

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
Politics c. 1860?
Unions, Organized Labor?

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
1930 3,118 0
1940 3,510 0
1950 4,445 0
1960 4,388 0
1970 4,530 0
1990 5,475 0
2000 5,637 5,463 11 15 49 123 28

Method of Exclusion

  • Threat of Violence
  • Private Bad Behavior

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black


An ad (c. 1920-1925) for Mena read “No
Mosquitoes / No Blizzards/ No Malaria / No
Drought / No Negroes.”

In 1901, Mena’s black residents were run out
after the lynching of “Nigger Pete”, Pete Berryman,
an older resident of Mena thought to be mentally
ill. in Pete had “a fracas with 12-year-old Essie
Osborne,” in which “he kicked her a severe blow,
knocking her down, and injuring her quite badly.
Later in the evening Pete was arrested and placed in
jail ‘as has often been done before in similar
offenses.’ The episode flashed across town and it
soon created strong feelings against the Negro.”
Whites then lynched him. They shot him, fractured
his skull, and cut his throat. The Mena newspaper
was outraged at the lynching. Prominent
businessmen deplored the act. But no one was ever
arrested for his death.

“Mena, and all of Polk County did exclude Black
people, and still pretty much do. I understand
there are a couple living in Mena now, but don’t
know if they actually live in the county, or just work
here. There was said to have been a sign at both
ends of the town which said, ‘Don’t let the sun set
on your black ass in Mena, Arkansas.’

“While in my working career, and in any town in
the USA, I could mention Mena, Arkansas to any
black person (several were friends) and they knew
where it was, and adamantly would say they would
not go there.
“When I was in school as a junior and senior back
in 1960-61 the local boys would threaten with
words and knives Negroes who would come
through town, and follow them to the outskirts of
town shouting ‘better not let the sun set on your
black ass in Mena, Arkansas’ and they often
‘bumped’ the car with their bumper from behind. I
was along in a car which did this, once, and saw it
done more than once. At that time I had only seen
one Negro in my life, and had no outside world
connections to let me know the problems which
“Mena, as a whole, would now accept Black
people, but there are still those who would not…
The truth is, there is an ‘unspoken’ prejudice in the
county, but because it is no longer ‘politically
correct’ you won’t get many to admit to being
prejudiced. I think you could still ask any Black
person over the age of 50 and they would tell you
about Mena, Arkansas.
“I would NOT like to be one to disgrace Mena, and
Polk County by making all these things known. It is
unfortunate that it happened, and hopefully if any
Black people move to the county they would be
accepted just like any other newcomer.”
This woman has invited various black friend
to Mena, to “see the area and meet my mother, but
none would come. All responded the same way, ‘I
ain’t going no where near that place, I don’t want
dead.’ It wasn’t until I started researching county
history that I understood what they meant, which,
of course, was many years later.”