January 2, 1903: Theodore Roosevelt backs the first black postmaster
At the turn of the century, racial tensions were high in the United States, but that didn’t stop African Americans from exercising their rights as citizens of the United States of America. Often, their existence on equal footing with white Americans sparked violent reactions. Nevertheless, they persevered.
Blazing her own trail
Minnie M. Cox was a school teacher and principal in Indianola, Mississippi. In 1891, she was first appointed to the position of postmaster. Records show that Cox was exceptionally devoted to her job and excelled at the position. When she was reappointed in 1897 by President William McKinley, that was when the trouble started.
Following the Civil War, many African Americans found work with the US Postal Service as mail carriers, though upward mobility was limited. Minnie Cox’s position as postmaster caused unrest among members of the community, and they began to push for her resignation four years into her five-year term.
Postbellum Missippi was a divided time. As a Deep-South state, racial tensions ran high and burned hot. The fact that an African American woman was managing one of the state’s most lucrative postal districts upset many white citizens. In 1902, prominent white supremacist and editor of The Greenwood Commonwealth James K. Vardaman ran a smear campaign.
His encouragement drove the citizens of Indianola to call for Cox to step down. The town held a poll and voted for her resignation. President Theodore Roosevelt, in an attempt to encourage African American success, refused to accept Cox’s resignation.
Despite President Roosevelt’s good intentions, his support of Minnie Cox may have done more harm than good. His order followed the denial of a local post inspector, who requested protection for Cox. Roosevelt refused the protection in favor of closing the Indianola post office until people came to their senses.
Following the closure of the post office, threats toward Minnie Cox and her family grew to the point where she left town for her safety. Though the post office later reopened with a new postmaster, the Coxs returned to found some of the first black-owned banks and insurance companies in the state.