update 10/20/99 - TRA
First and foremost it is important to consider the time period. The concept of civil rights was not the same as we know it. Theodore Roosevelt was born not too long before the Civil War. During his childhood slavery was legal, but later abolished. Women could not vote, many considered college education and higher paying professions as inappropriate roles for women, and property ownership and legal rights were different for women. Many changes took place in the United States during his life time. But what we know of civil for all people regardless of race, religion or sex was still a long time away.
Overall TR had a good record of treatment of African-Americans. Unfortunately however, his one major failure of his presidency also included them.
In 1899, while he
was Governor of the State of New York, Theodore Roosevelt pushed a bill
desegregating state schools through the State Assembly, sending the
Assembly a note saying that his own children went to school with colored
children (the politically correct term at the time) and that it did
them no harm.
In 1901, right after he was sworn in as President after the death of President William McKinley, he invited Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute to the White House for a meeting. The meeting ran late, and TR invited Mr. Washington to dinner. This was the first time that an African-American was entertained at the White House as a guest.
in the South went ballistic; the papers in the North weren't too supportive
either. The Memphis "Scimiter" said that it was "the most damnable outrage
that has ever been perpetrated by any citizen of the United States."
Roosevelt claimed he had invited a friend to dinner with his family
and it was no one else's business.
TR appointed an
African-American, a Dr. Crum, as Collector of the Port of Charleston
(collector of tariffs) in South Carolina. TR was put under pressure
of Minnie Cox as Postmaster
Minnie Cox was an amazing woman. She was appointed head of the post office in Indianola, Mississippi, down in the Delta region, by Benjamin Harrison, in an area where blacks were in the majority, and she was still in office when TR became President. White racist politicians, particularly the infamous James K. Vardaman, running for governor, in 1902 used Minnie Cox as proof that African Americans had too much power, and that President Theodore Roosevelt was a Negrophile. Vardaman, who was indeed elected governor, called TR that "coon-flavored miscegenationist in the White House."
Mrs. Cox was threatened with violence by local whites, who held several mass or mob meetings to demand her removal (her term expired in 1904). The mayor and sheriff declined to protect her, and she resigned as postmaster, effective January 1, 1903, and left town for a time.
TR's response was to close the Indianola post office on January 2, 1903; decline Mrs. Cox's resignation and continue her salary; and force Indianola residents to collect their mail at Greenville, 30 miles away. By statute Indianola as a county seat was entitled to a post office. Thus the President could not abolish that post office or keep it closed indefinitely. Mrs. Cox said she would not accept reappointment. TR in 1904 appointed a white Democrat who was a friend of Mrs. Cox and had been her bondsman. The Indianola post office was demoted from third-class to fourth-class, on the basis that no revenues had been received in 1903.
Minnie Cox and her
husband Wayne W. Cox, who had been an employee in the railway mail service,
returned to Indianola and organized the "Delta Penny Savings Bank."
They had been substantial property owners before 1903, and they now
bought more land and became successful bankers as well.
The main "failure" of Theodore Roosevelt's administration was the "Brownsville Incident" - the people of Brownsville, Texas claimed that 12 members of the African-American 25th Infantry stationed nearby had shot up the town and then returned to their base.
When members of the 25th were asked to step forward to admit guilt, no one did. The men were then ordered to give information against whoever was responsible. Again, no one did.
Saturday , February 21, 2004, during Black History Month, a marker and
memorial will be dedicated to Minnie Cox in Indianola, Mississippi. The
letter in the side bar is being sent at the request of the people in Indianola,
through a resident, who is determined that Minnie Cox not be forgotten
in her hometown.
On behalf of the officers and members of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, I send you and the people of Indianola, Mississippi greetings and best wishes on the occasion of the dedication of a marker and memorial honoring Minnie M. Cox, postmaster of Indianola during the administrations of Presidents Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. Minnie Cox and her husband Wayne W. Cox, intelligent, honest, hard-working, educated African Americans, were greatly admired by President Theodore Roosevelt, who was outraged at the injustices visited upon them by white racists.
Theodore Roosevelt believed in a "Square Deal" for all Americans, regardless of race, creed, color, or ethnic group; and it was in 1903 when he first preached the doctrine of the Square Deal, specifically to Native Americans and African Americans, that Minnie Cox was forced to resign from her position as postmaster because of her race. In retaliation, TR closed the post office in Indianola for as long as he could under the law. TR held up Minnie and Wayne Cox as examples of good and able citizens who were being discriminated against by Southern racists under the social system that then ruled the South.
Minnie Cox has been vindicated by history, and now stands as a hero for all Americans to admire and emulate. It is altogether fitting that she is now being honored in her hometown of Indianola. I regret that a board meeting prevents me from being with you on February 21; but I want all the people of Indianola to know that the Theodore Roosevelt Association regards Minnie Cox as one of the great heroes of the long struggle to establish a Square Deal for all Americans.
John A. Gable, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Theodore Roosevelt Association
Oyster Bay, NY
Roosevelt generally judged men and women by their character, or on more than one occasion by their politics, but not on their race or religion. As police commissioner, he opened the department to Jews. One Jewish officer, Otto Raphael, said the traditional prayer for the dead over Roosevelt's body the night before he was buried.
One of the favorite stories of TR and Jews comes from his time as a Police Commisioner of New York City. A German anti-semitic preacher planned to give speeches in New York "denouncing" Jews. The preacher expected protection from the police department and that is where Roosevelt came in.
Many Jews were alarmed and/or outraged and asked Roosevelt to prevent the speeches. "Of course I told them I could not - that the right of free speech must be maintained unless he incited them to riot." But, "On thinking it over, however it occurred to me that there was one way in which I could undo most of the mischief he was trying to do."
Cleverly, TR put a Jewish Police Sergeant in charge of the preachers protection, along with forty Jewish Policemen and the fanatical preacher looked absolutely ridiculous.
[Miller, pg 232]
Roosevelt also stood firmly against Russian aggression against the Jews. "following a particularly savage explosion of anti-Semitic violence in Kishinev during Easter week of 1903, Roosevelt,..., ordered the State Department to forward a protest petition from prominent American Jews to the Russian government. He also issued a statement expressing, 'the deep sympathy felt not only by the administration but by all the American peole for the unfortunate Jews who have been the victims in the recent appalling massacres and outrages.' "
The Russians would not formally receive the petition, but the message was there, both for the Russians, and the Jewish voters of the US.
[Miller, pg. 443-444]
Although TR had many of the affectations of a young reasonably well-to-do Harvard man, his progressive bent showed itself even then. Perhaps as an effort to impress his love and later first wife Alice Lee? Or as a result of the influences to the bright, educated, thoughtful and strong women around him, such as his mother who smuggled supplies to the South during the civil war, or his sisters, or even young Edith Carow who would be his second wife. His father was a reformist and he may have been exposed to the discussions of early feminists while socializing at Harvard.
Whatever the reason, TR became an early champion of rights for women. His college senior essay in 1880, would be about that subject, "The Practicality of Equalizing Men and Women Before the Law."
[Miller, pgs. 99-100]
Not long after his graduation and then marriage to Alice, TR found himself elected to the New York State Legislature. The suffrage party (supporters of a woman's right to vote in elections) hoped to find an "able and forceful promoter" of the rights and interests of women in his district.
[Miller, pg. 121]
When Roosevelt served on the Civil Service Commission for six years, he pulled many government jobs out from the political payback system, and put them under a merit system with tests for applicants. "For the first time, women' were put on the same competitive level with men, which incread their numbers in government jobs."
[Miller, pg. 226]
In 1912, when Roosevelt was nominated to serve as the third party candidate for president (the formation of the Bull Moose party) his nomination was seconded by Jane Addams, the founder of the settlement house movement (a precursor to the homeless shelters we have today). She received his assurance that he was in total support of woman's suffrage.
"Working women have the same need to protection
that working men have; the ballot is as necessary for one class as to
the other; we do not believe that with the two sexes there is identity
of function; but we do believe there should be equality of right."
"Much can be done by law towards putting women on
a footing of complete and entire equal rights with man - including the
right to vote, the right to hold and use property, and the right to
enter any profession she desires on the same terms as the man."..."Women
should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter,
and when their work is as valuable as that of a man it should be paid