"Controversy linked to election of white supremacist as governor"

(Greenville) Delta Democrat Times

April 20, 1997

 

Vardaman used newspaper to criticize Roosevelt for Cox's appointment.

By LEW K. COHN
Delta Democrat Times

   The Minnie Cox incident not only polarized Mississippi into posing camps, but was perhaps the key to the election of, perhaps the state's most controversial governor, James Kimble Vardaman of Greenwood.
   According to "The White Chief: James Kimble Vardaman," by William F. Holmes, and "Theodore Roosevelt and the Art of Controversy," by Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., the Indianola post office affair contributed greatly to Vardaman's election as governor of Mississippi in 1903.
   Vardaman, who founded the Greenwood Commonwealth newspaper, seized on the tensions and fears of Indianola residents, hinting that Cox had been

appointed by Roosevelt and jeering that the townspeople were "tolerating a Negro wench as postmaster."
   The unabashed Vardaman also derided Roosevelt for inviting Booker T. Washington to dine with him at the White House in 1901, claiming that Roosevelt, by eating at the same table with a black man, was directly encouraging interracial marriage and social equality, ideas which Vardaman and other white supremacists abhorred.
   When local whites demanded that Cox resign or Roosevelt replace her, Vardaman congratulated them for, their stand, announcing in the Greenwood Commonwealth in: November 1902 that "white people are going to rule this country and they are not going to let n---s hold office."
After President Roosevelt shut down the Indianola post office in retaliation, newspapers across the state denounced his actions, especially the Commonwealth.
Vardaman again led the way with this Jan. 10, 1903, editorial: "In the annals of the political history of the world since the
days of Nero, there is not to be found a parallel to the pusillanimous lowdown, dirty and contemptible conduct of President Roosevelt regarding the Indianola post office," Vardaman wrote.
   "There have been deeds committed by heads of governments followed by more widespread and atrocious consequences but none that evidence a more craven and malignant spirit. It is the work of a human coyote who would destroy the civilization of the better and more respecting section of the country of which he by the accident of an assassin's shot is president..."
   Because the Indianola post office was closed throughout 1903, Vardaman was able to capitalize on the anti-Roosevelt sentiment that inflamed the state, even resorting to sensationalism to promote his Negrophobic agenda.
   He and his staff members began promoting his race for governor as a contest between himself and Roosevelt, to the paint of linking his opponent, Judge Frank Critz, to the president.

   In the Aug. 22, 1903, edition of the Commonwealth, Vardaman proclaimed "a vote for Vardaman is a vote for White Supremacy, a vote for the quelling of the arrogant spirit that has been aroused in the blacks by Roosevelt and his henchmen, a vote for the better education of white children, a vote for the safety of the Home and the protection of our women and children."

   While stumping, Vardaman would call Roosevelt a miscegenationist and "that wild, untamed, self asserted, bronco busting, Negro dining man who sits in the chair of Washington, Jefferson and McKinley" As expected, the slurs incited thousands of white Mississippians to support Vardaman.

   As a result of his actions, Vardaman defeated Critz, 51,829 to 44,931, in an Aug. 27, 1903, Democratic runoff primary. Because no Republican ran against him, Vardaman was elected governor of Mississippi, serving in the office from 1903 to 1907.

 

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