Wayne Cox was also the first black alderman in the city. Both Wayne and Minnie were very active politically and supported the Republican party. President Benjamin Harrison needed a Postmaster for Indianola. He appointed Minnie in 1891 when he couldn’t find anyone else qualified. Minnie became the first black postmistress in the United States.
U.S. Library of Congress
She did such an exceptional job that President McKinley reappointed her for another term in 1897. Theodore Roosevelt reappointed her again when he took office. Her salary of $1,100 annually was considered high pay at the time. Minnie was known to use part of her pay to cover costs when people were late paying for their post office boxes.
Very few complaints were made about Minnie until the political climate began to change. New laws discouraged allowing blacks to vote, and also prohibited appointing, black citizens into positions of power. In 1902, some of the white citizens of Indianola began to call for Minnie to step down. Minnie refused to do so, but did let them know she would not seek reappointment when her term ended in 1904.
In late 1902, James K. Vardaman, newspaper editor and white supremacist, gave speeches inciting the citizens against Minnie Cox. Threats were made against her and her family. It was suggested that as an appointed official, Minnie should be protected by federal troops. Minnie decided to tender her resignation.
U.S. Library of Congress
Minnie and her family left town in early 1903 because of the fear of people following through on their threats. She didn’t return until 1904 after her term of office ended and the post office returned to Indianola, although it had been downgraded to a lower class postal system.
The news about the hostility toward Minnie spread across the country. For four hours her situation was debated on the Senate floor. In early 1903, the Cleveland Gazette ran the headline, “Mrs. Minnie Cox, Postmistress of Indianola – A Faithful and Efficient Official Driven From Office by Southern White Brutes.” One of the "brutes" referred to in the headline, was James K. Vardaman, who went on to be elected governor of Missouri.
Minnie and her husband quit teaching. When they returned to Indianola, they opened a bank that attracted both black and white patrons. Minnie passed away in 1933. In 2008, the Indianola Post Office was renamed the Minnie Cox Post Office Building by an act of Congress.
Have you ever heard of Minnie Cox? Did you find this story fascinating? I know I did. I loved how President Roosevelt supported Minnie by continuing her pay even after the post office was closed. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.