Remembering Mayor Larry Owens

Lawrence (“Larry”) Napoleon Owens was born in Heth, Arkansas, the 6th of 13 children of Mr. Granville Owens and Mrs. Annie Boyland-Owens.  He was raised on his family’s farm in Heth and would go on to achieve a number of major successes in his personal and professional life.   Among them would include his participation in a historic mayoral election near his home town during the fall of 2010. 

Larry began his education at the Heth Elementary School for Negroes where he and his siblings walked four (4) miles each day to attend.  During those times, there were no school buses for Negroes.  The school’s facilities were that of a 3-room wooden plantation house with no electricity, a coal burning stove, an outhouse for the toilet, pumped water and two teachers for all of the students.  His high school training took place at Mildred Jackson H. S. in Hughes where the facilities were not much better.  Initially the building was a 4-room wooden structure, but that later changed when a legal victory in favor of the Black plaintiffs forced the school board to allocate more funds to the Negro/colored schools.  The new Mildred Jackson School began operations in 1955 with a more modern facility.  Larry played baseball and basketball for the school and suffered a broken jaw while sliding into home plate in a game against an opposing Negro team.  Another memorable time was his winning a hog competition at the state level as part of his New Farmers of America (NFA) training. He went on to achieve a B. S. Degree at Arkansas A. M. & N. College under his mentor, Dr. O. R. Holiday.  This accomplishment came as a result of his working and paying his way through college.

Photo below:

Larry Owens upon completion of B. S. Degree at Arkansas A. M. & N. College in May, 1965

After graduation, he was drafted and served in the Air Force with a tour of duty in De’nang Vietnam.  While there he was required to load bombs onto fighter jets that would later drop them in the battle zones of Vietnam where the ground attacks were being waged.  He later shared with his family that his greatest fear and prayer was that the bombs he handled would not bring death to his brother Robert who was serving at the same time in Vietnam as a Marine in those battle zone.  Two other brothers were also serving in the Military during those years; George in the Army and Sylvester in the Navy.  As it turned out, Larry’s prayers were answered!

After military duty, his professional career began as a chemist for U. S. Steel in Gary Indiana.  After a few years, he would join the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service where he spent approximately 25 years.  In this capacity, he served as a Federal Special Agent concentrating in California, Louisiana, Michigan and other locations as needed. Other employment included a position as an Arkansas State Game Warden for 10 years helping to enforce state regulations on wildlife loss.  In all cases, Larry’s goals and personal expectations were very high which resulted in numerous awards and accolades upon his exit from the work place.  He was noted as an achiever and a trailblazer!

After retirement, he set his sights for yet another type of service to others, his community.  In addition to maintaining an active church life he expanded his participation in organizations such as the Royal Knights Society, St. Francis County Communities of Opportunities, National Wildlife Federation, National Geographic Board Member of the Audubon Society and of course, his alma mater, the MJHS Alumni Association.

Photo below: 

Inauguration of Mayor Larry  Owens, city of Hughes, Arkansas, January - 2011

Lawrence “Larry” Napoleon Owens entered the pages of U. S. History in January, 2011 when he became the first Black Man to win the election and serve as Mayor of Hughes, Arkansas.  The city has a rather unique history.  During the center of the Jim Crow years, it was a spinoff town for certain activities that were not allowed in other places like Memphis.  It was also the place where the first legal battle in the U. S was won in favor of Blacks (formerly called Negroes or colored) who challenged the educational system on the grounds of separate-but-equal.  The decision brought an immediate end to the wooden shacks like the Negro Elementary School at Heth and forced the construction of the new MJHS in Hughes. This victory predates the highly publicized desegregation battle in Little Rock and was the precedent for other changes in the educational systems across the country.  Reverend Billy Dubois once described Hughes as a town that sat at the center of four large plantations whose owners vowed to control it and keep the “negroes” in their place.  Mayor Larry Owens broke through these barriers.

As Mayor, his approach was to give a hand up, not a handout.  This meant that he was more interested in helping people achieve the skill or means to take care of their needs rather than crippling them with occasional handouts. He achieved a number of successes during his four year term and laid the ground work for ongoing improvements. Achievements included major improvements in the city’s water and sewer system, re-established the police department, established a community garden, paved a number of streets, developed a budget model for the city (did not exist before), secured grants and initiated work for a ball park for the youth, a park area for children, established working relationships with Hefer International and others to provide support for cleanup efforts in Hughes, co-sponsored the first OctoberFest with MJHS, hay rides for the children and many others.  His ambition was to establish a library for the city, build additional housing for seniors, to maintain the school systems and jobs in Hughes and to complete the ball park and walking trails for the community.

Photo Below:

Mayor Owens at center (shirt and tie) with MJHS Alumni members from the Heth Community during 2011 Reunion

Mayor Owens passed away on February 16, 2016 at his home in Hughes.


 In recognition of his love for family and people, the unwavering service to others, his commitment to excellence and the contributions to the Hughes Community, we honor Mayor Larry Napoleon Owens as our MJHS Unsung.  Peace and Blessings Eternally….


Photos and history provided by the Owens Family

Tribute to Mayor Owens is a courtesy of MJHS 21st Century, Inc. Board Members.