The Ebenezer Monument is located at the corner of 9th and Church streets in Mena (Polk County). It was constructed in 1936 by citizens of Mena during their fight against the perceived evils of Commonwealth College, located in rural Polk County. The monument was added to the National Register of Historic Places on January 30, 1992.
Commonwealth College began operating in Polk County in late 1924. The college traced its beginnings to the Newllano Cooperative Colony in Louisiana. Many of the members of the colony moved to Polk County. After operating briefly in Mena, the college purchased land thirteen miles outside of town and moved there in April 1925. The college educated students while operating as a commune where all faculty and students were required to work. During the short period that the college operated in Mena, the students and local townspeople had several confrontations. Charges of communism and “free love,” among other complaints, were leveled against the college in 1926. While these charges were determined to be unfounded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the relationship between the college and locals never improved.
The Reverend Luther D. Summers, minister at the First Baptist Church of Mena, was vocal in his opposition to the existence of the college, calling the institution a “hotbed of atheists, free-lovers, Communists and Negrophiles.” In an effort to organize opposition to the college, the members of First Baptist decided to create a monument around which the community could rally as they worked to discredit Commonwealth. Named for a monument that appears in the Bible in I Samuel 7:12, the structure was dedicated on June 14, 1936, in a two-and-a-half-hour program that included numerous speeches and patriotic songs.
The monument is constructed from fieldstone and concrete. It is approximately twelve feet tall, and the base is about five feet square. A column constructed of fieldstone rests upon a concrete base. The column is narrower at the top than at the base and is topped with a pointed concrete cap. The column has four sides and each side includes a concrete panel, each with inscriptions. The first reads: “Ebenezer of First Baptist Church / ‘Hitherto Hath The Lord Helped Us’ – I Samuel 7:12/Sunday, June 14, 1936.” The second includes an inscription which reads: “Arkansas’s First Centennial / ‘Have Faith In God.’” The third panel reads: “This monument contains the names and a short history of many of the citizens of Mena, Polk County, Arkansas and the United States,” while the last panel reads: “Vault / This Vault to be opened June 14, 1986, and other names then living added to the list of names now in vault and put back into vault for another fifty years.” The time capsule was opened on that date, and the materials inside the cedar chest had been severely damaged by moisture. The chest contained various church papers, mementos, newspapers, and a flag. The capsule was replaced by a stainless-steel chest that includes a videotape, a flag, and a Bible, among other items. It was set to be opened in 2036.
The college operated under continued attacks until 1940, when it was forced to close due to its inability to pay fines levied by the Polk County Court. Summers purchased the library of the college and purged the materials he found to objectionable. The remaining books were eventually given to Rich Mountain Community College (now the University of Arkansas Rich Mountain), and the papers were given to the Special Collections department at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). The buildings of the college were all eventually removed, leaving the Ebenezer Monument the single remaining structure related to the operations of Commonwealth College.
The monument is located at the corner of the rear parking lot of the First Baptist Church of Mena and is publicly accessible.
For additional information:
Cobb, William H. Radical Education in the Rural South: Commonwealth College, 1922–1940. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000.
Commonwealth College Fortnightly. Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas. http://libinfo.uark.edu/specialcollections/commonwealth/fortnightly.asp (accessed December 19, 2019).
“Ebenezer Monument.” National Register for Historic Places registration form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Office, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/PL0107.nr.pdf (accessed December 19, 2019).
“Ebenezer Vault Opening Draws Crowd of 400 Sunday.” Mena Star, June 17, 1986, p. 1.
Koch, Raymond, and Charlotte Koch. Educational Commune: The Story of Commonwealth College. New York: Shocken Books, 1972.
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