Promise and Peril, 1903–1927
In January 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt refused to accept the resignation of Minnie Geddings Cox, postmistress for the city of Indianola and Mississippi’s first African American postmistress. Roosevelt subsequently closed Indianola’s post office, and it remained closed for more than a year. The newspapers called the incident the “Indianola Affair.” Raised by business owner parents and educated at one of the premier schools for aspiring African American women, Cox sought opportunities beyond the traditional expectations for women of the time.
In January 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt refused to accept the resignation of Minnie Geddings Cox, postmistress for the city of Indianola and Mississippi’s first African American postmistress. Roosevelt subsequently closed Indianola’s post office, and it remained closed for more than a year. The newspapers referred to the post office closing as the “Indianola Affair.” Cox’s role in the Indianola Affair, however, has been reduced to a footnote in early twentieth-century United States history.
On December 28, 1894, Burnita Shelton Matthews was born into an educated, civic-minded family, in Copiah County, Mississippi. Although she aspired from a very young age to pursue a legal career, her father insisted that she pursue the study and teaching of music which he believed was a more ladylike profession. Following her marriage to Percy A. Matthews, she taught music for a short while in Georgia before moving to Washington, D.C. to accept a job with the Veterans Administration. She strategically chose to live and work in Washington, D.C.
Burnita Shelton was one of six children, and the only daughter, born on December 28, 1894, to Burnell Shelton and Lora Drew (Barlow) Shelton. She was part of an educated, civic-minded family. Her mother was a graduate of Whitworth College, a boarding school for young women in Brookhaven, Mississippi, and her father was a planter, cattleman, and also an elected official serving at various times as sheriff and tax collector of Copiah County and as the clerk of the chancery court.
Three weeks before Christmas of 1903, J. R. Climer of Madison County, Mississippi, became the first resident of the Jefferson Davis Soldier Home, Beauvoir — Mississippi’s home for Confederate veterans and their wives and widows on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Biloxi. Climer was a Tennessean by birth and a veteran of Company A of the Madison Light Artillery that fought in General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at some of the most famous battles of the American Civil War. When the war began, Climer was a tombstone agent in Canton.
Sarah Dickey was a young women in her twenties when she was sent on a mission by the United Brethren Church to Vicksburg, Mississippi. Between 1863 and 1865, she helped operate a school in Vicksburg for newly emancipated slaves. It was during this time that Dickey realized her life’s calling – to teach African American children during one of the most turbulent times in American history. After the war, she enrolled at Mount Holyoke, a female college in Massachusetts known for training teachers.
During Reconstruction, one of the most turbulent periods for race relations in the state’s history, Sarah Ann Dickey, a White female teacher from the North, became a pioneer by providing education to newly freed enslaved people in Mississippi. Dickey worked tirelessly and determinedly to improve the lives of the most vulnerable population group in the state, African American women and children. She believed that by educating Black women and training them to become teachers, dual paths of security and opportunity could be established for all freedmen.