Minnie Cox (1869-1933) was appointed as post master in Indianola, Mississippi in 1891. Before her employment at the post office, Cox was an educator and school principal. She was a graduate of Fisk University. Initially she was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison to the postmaster role when there was no white Republican who qualified for the job. She is believed to be the first African American woman to hold a post master position. Her appointment was made during the post civil war reconstruction era when African Americans were appointed and elected to various political roles that had previously been unavailable to them before the Civil War. Cox was again reappointed in 1897 under President William McKinley and continued under the term of Theodore Roosevelt. Indianola was a predominately African American community. Minnie Cox and her husband were well respected members of the community.
The position of postmaster was a highly respected and well paid federal position. As postmaster, Cox oversaw postal services for approximately 3,000 residents and was paid $1,100 annually which would have been a significant salary at that time. She was known to have a strong work ethic; working long hours and even helping residents pay their rental fees on post office boxes when they fell behind. Cox even had a telephone installed in the post office at her own expense so that residents would have better communication with the post office. As the political climate began to change; hiring of African Americans in roles of this kind, fell out of favor. Cox was initially hired due, in part to her affiliation with the Republican party. However, during the Roosevelt presidential administration, the white community in Indianola decided to rally to eliminate African Americans from serving in leadership roles.
A petition was started within the community to remove Minnie Cox from her postmaster position; hoping that the role would then be filled by a white person. James K. Vardaman, editor of the Greenwood Commonwealth and also a white supremacist was a vocal opponent of Cox. In one speech, Vardaman scolded the residents of Indianola for, “tolerating a negro wench as postmaster”. Vardaman wanted Cox removed so that he could take over the role himself. His speeches garnered greater support to remove Cox from her position. White residents demanded that Cox resign her position by January 1, 1903. Cox initially refused to step down before the end of her term but did indicate that she would not seek reappointment after her current term ended.
She soon found her physical safety to be at risk because of her refusal to step down. Local authorities refused to come to her aid. Postal inspector, Charles Fitzgerald saw these threats to Cox, as necessitating intervention by the federal government. He requested that if necessary, federal troops be dispatched to protect Cox since she was a federal employee. Fearing for her safety, Cox submitted her resignation. President Roosevelt intervened and indicated that that intervention of federal troops would not be necessary. He also refused to accept Cox’s resignation. Instead, President Roosevelt suspended mail service in Indianola on January 2, 1903 and told the city’s residents that mail service would be rerouted until Minnie Cox could safely resume her duties. He also ordered that Cox would continue to receive her salary during this time.
The city environment continued to remain hostile and Cox eventually left the Indianola fearing for her safety on January 5, 1903. President Roosevelt ordered that the citizens who had threatened Minnie Cox be prosecuted by the attorney general. This incident drew national media coverage and was also debated for several hours in the U.S. Senate. A year later, in 1904, at the time that Cox’s term would have expired, the post office was re-opened. However it was reduced in rank from 3rd class to 4th class. Minnie Cox died in 1933.
A newly discovered photo of a “younger” Harriet Tubman (1819? – 1913) is getting lots of publicity in the media! The photo was discovered among other pictures belonging to a deceased friend of Tubman’s. It is estimated that Tubman is in her early to mid 40’s in the picture. Her photo along with 44 other photos will be auctioned on March 30 by Swann Galleries. The photo was likely taken just after the Civil War. Tubman was then residing in Auburn, NY on land that would later become the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park.
Tubman also made the news in 2016 after it was announced that her image would be added to the $20 bill beginning in 2030 replacing, President Andrew Jackson. While many of us are familiar with Tubman’s bravery and heroism in bringing hundreds of people to freedom, via the Underground Railroad, I’d like to share some lesser known facts about her life!
Tubman’s was given the name Araminta Ross at birth (nickname: Minty). She adopted the name Harriet after running away to escape slavery to aid in disguising her identity. Harriet was her mother’s name. Her last name, “Tubman” was taken when she married her first husband John Tubman who was a free man.
It is estimated that Tubman walked approximately 90 when she escaped slavery. No one knows exactly how long it took her to make the trip.
Tubman’s husband was not interested in following her North. He remarried a free woman of color after Tubman’s escape and had several children with her; leaving Harriet heart-broken. She would later remarry Nelson Davis in 1869. He was 22 years younger than Tubman. They remained married for 19 years until his death.
Tubman suffered from a health condition that would cause her to fall asleep suddenly without warning. She also experienced severe headaches, and seizures. The condition (possibly temporal epilepsy) was caused due to a head injury she received while enslaved at the age of 12. She was hit in the head with a 2 pound iron weight that was thrown at another enslaved African but hit Tubman instead. After her head injury she began to see visions which she believed were from God.
Tubman never had any biological children. However, she and her second husband Nelson Davis adopted a child (a girl), Gertie in 1874.
When rescuing enslaved persons, she threatened to shoot any of her “passengers” who thought to turn back.
Tubman was a soldier, spy, and nurse for the Union Army during the civil war. She was known for her ability to treat dysentery successfully using native herbs.
She was the first woman to lead an armed war expedition during the Combahee River Raid with 300 other African American soldiers. 3 gun boats were used in the raid to liberate 700 enslaved blacks in South Carolina. She would later be denied payment for her war time service and was only able to collect a widow’s pension from her husband’s death which was $20/month. Ironically, in 2016, Tubman was selected to replace Andrew Jackson on the new $20 bill which will be released in 2030.
In the late 1890’s Tubman had brain surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital due to pain and “buzzing” in her head which made it difficult for her to sleep (likely related to her childhood injury). She refused to take anesthesia and instead chewed a bullet during the operation. This was something she had seen soldiers do during the civil war when their limbs were amputated.
She established a home for the aged and indigent in Auburn, NY where she spent the last years of her life.
Harriet Tubman’s life and legacy is certainly one that deserves to be celebrated! She was truly a phenomenal woman.
Many people are aware that some well known insurance companies; some of which are still in existence today; provided insurance for slaves owners. However, many people may not be aware that the US government paid claims to slave owners as well. For a short time during the Civil War, slave owners could file a claim against the federal government and receive compensation if their slaves joined the military. Two acts of congress passed in 1864 and 1865 made this possible. The acts were struck down by congress in 1867.
Back regiments fought for the Union Army during the Civil War. Of Approximately 186,000 African-American soldiers (including 94,000 former slaves from Southern states), 38,000 died in battle. The Confederate Army generally frowned upon having blacks served. Though some did do so, it was generally felt that arming blacks who were also enslaved or had been enslaved would be a threat to the Confederate Army.
Some may be familiar with the Plessey v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that made “segregation” of races legal under the assertion of providing “separate but equal” accommodation of the races. Some may also know about the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision making segregation illegal in public schools. Between these two cases was another important but lesser known Supreme Court case: “Berea College v. Kentucky”.
Berea College was originally founded in the state of Kentucky in1855 by abolitionist, Reverend John G. Fee, as a private Christian college who accepted both black and white students. Fee envisioned having an anti-slavery and interracial community which would include, a church, and school. His dream was for the school to be an advocate of equality and excellence in education for men and women of all races.
Fee was gifted a 10-acre homestead on which he established the church with 13 members and the school on a ridge they named “Berea” after the biblical town whose populace was open-minded and receptive to the gospel (Acts 17:10). They school had an interracial faculty and the community around it was interracial. John Fee, intentionally distributed plots of land in ways that insured that there was mix of both black and white families living in close proximity to each other. Berea was the only college in the state of Kentucky at the time that educated both races together. In 1859, due to “pro-slavery” opposition and the start of the Civil War, work on the college was abandoned and its workers were forced out of the state. Fee spent the Civil War years raising funds for the school. After the war ended, in 1865, he and his followers returned and resumed work on building the interracial college and community. Many of Berea’s students and settlers were escaped slaves, former slaves and freedmen who migrated there after the Civil War. For several decades following the Civil War, Berea’s student body continued to be divided equally between white and black students.
Things would change dramatically, when in 1904, the Kentucky legislature passed the “Day Law”, which made it illegal for African American and White students to be educated at the same school or in schools that were located less than 25 miles apart. Proponents of the law sited concerns regarding violence and inter-racial marriage as reasons for separation of the races. With Berea College being the only integrated educational institution in Kentucky, it was obviously the target of the Day Law. Berea appealed its case to the United States Supreme Court but lost. The Court upheld the law requiring segregation of the school as constitutional and it remained in effect until it was amended by the legislature in 1950.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against them in 1904, Berea set aside funds to assist in the establishment of Lincoln Institute, a school located near Louisville, for black students. When the Day Law was amended in 1950 to again allow integration, Berea was the first college in Kentucky to reopen its doors to black students. Almost 50 years after it resolved Berea, The Supreme Court made segregation of public school illegal with Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case. Berea College is still educating students today. It provides free tuition to all students.
“Forty Acres and a Mule” refers to an 1865 promise many formerly enslaved African Americans felt that the United States government had made to them at the close of the Civil War when Union General George T. Sherman ordered that lands confiscated from confederate landowners be redistributed be given to the formerly enslaved. As the Union Army marched through the south, many blacks followed them in order to flee enslavement. Sherman’s decision to re-assign the confiscated lands came after he met with a group of 20 black ministers led by baptist minister Garrison Frazier. Sherman asked the group what they wanted for their people and Fraizer told him that people needed land to farm in orderto make a living. Sherman authorized the redistribution of lands under “Special Field Order No. 15”.