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The Postmistress – Part 2

July 26, 2017

Race relations seemed to have progressed nicely.  Regarding the black postmistress of Indianola, Mississippi, President Theodore Roosevelt said: “The best people of the town liked her.”  But what appeared to be progress was mere acceptance of the status quo.  She had been appointed by President Benjamin Harrison back in the late 1880s, served through President Cleveland’s second term, and was reappointed by President McKinley.  Roosevelt carefully investigated her history, noted her bipartisan sponsorship, and reappointed her.

Because she had been postmistress for so many years, probably no one remembered her predecessor.  So far as the townspeople were concerned, she had not displaced anyone.  She was simply part of the scenery.

One day a new physician came to town.  If Indianola could have a black postmistress, perhaps they would also welcome a black physician, especially if none of his patients were white.  Unfortunately for him, the trust he had in the black community caused some white physicians to lose clientele.  That’s how the trouble began.

In a 1906 letter to an old friend, President Roosevelt wrote about the black physician.  “He was one of those men who are painfully educating themselves, and whose cases are more pitiful than the cases of any other people in our country, for they not only find it exceedingly difficult to secure a livelihood but are followed with hatred by the very whites who ought to wish them well.”

Then, speaking of the white doctors who had lost patients, Roosevelt wrote:  “They instigated the mob which held the mass meeting and notified the negro doctor to leave town at once; which to save his life he did that very night.”

Roosevelt added: “Not satisfied with this, the mob then notified the colored postmistress that she must at once resign her office.”

No President can stand idly by while one of his appointees is driven out of town, and Theodore Roosevelt, the President who met every problem head on, was certainly no exception.


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