Minnie M. Geddings was born in Lexington, Mississippi, in 1869 to former slaves William and Mary (or Elizabeth) Geddings. Few details survive about Cox’s early life in Holmes County. She worked in her parents’ restaurant, and they saved enough money to send her to Fisk University in Nashville. She left Fisk’s Normal School around 1888 and returned to Mississippi. She earned a first-grade teaching certificate, the highest-level certificate available in the state at that time. She moved to Indianola to teach in the local segregated public school. On 30 October 1889 she married Wayne Wellington Cox, then principal of the Colored School in Indianola. The couple had one daughter, Ethyl.
In 1891 Pres. Benjamin Harrison sought advice about patronage positions from black Republicans in Mississippi. Wayne Cox suggested his wife, Minnie, for the Holmes County postmistress position, and she became the first black woman to hold the post in Mississippi. Wayne Cox later claimed that he suggested his wife so that the position would not go to a black man from outside of Sunflower County.
Minnie Cox remained postmistress until 1902, when white supremacists angered by her power and position demanded that she resign. James K. Vardaman heard of the controversy and criticized Indianola for “tolerating a negro wench as postmaster.” However, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt refused to accept her resignation on the principle that the federal government had the power to decide who should be a federal employee. Roosevelt closed the Indianola post office but kept Cox on the federal payroll until her term ended in 1904.
Cox had long been involved in real estate and business transactions. Even prior to her marriage, she had sold two improved properties in Indianola. Contemporaries praised Wayne Cox’s large plantation on the outskirts of Indianola, but his wife owned most of the land. In 1891 she sold a downtown lot with a small building to the Atlanta-based Southern Home Building and Loan Association.
In October 1904 Wayne Cox chartered the Delta Penny Savings Bank, the state’s second black-owned bank. The bank opened for business in early 1905 and soon became one of the Delta’s most successful banks, black or white. In 1914 it became Mississippi’s first black-owned bank approved to guarantee deposits. In an ironic twist, many of the whites who had once vigorously opposed Cox deposited funds in her bank. A contemporary observer noted that it was “a curious circumstance” that the same whites who had objected to Cox as postmistress were perfectly comfortable with her husband as a bank president.
After Wayne Cox’s death in 1916 his widow became vice president of Delta Penny and secretary-treasurer of Mississippi Life, the most powerful position in the company. She moved Mississippi Life’s headquarters to Memphis in August 1920 before selling the company to Standard Life, a black-owned Georgia insurance company, in 1923.
The sale of Mississippi Life, majority ownership of Delta Penny Savings Bank, and land and property holdings made Cox one of the richest black women in the United States. In 1925 she married George Hamilton and moved to Rockford, Illinois, though she returned to Indianola at least once a year to take care of her business matters. In 1928 the Delta Penny failed. Minnie Cox Hamilton died in Rockford in 1933 and is buried in the Little Rock Cemetery in Indianola next to Wayne Cox.
Mississippi writer Steve Yarbrough fictionalized Cox’s life in his 2001 novel Visible Spirits.
- Chancery Clerk Records, Sunflower County, Indianola, Mississippi
- Minnie Cox, Subject File, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson
- Marie M. Hemphill, Fevers, Floods, and Faith: A History of Sunflower County, Mississippi, 1844–1976 (1980)
- Steven J. Niven, in African American National Biography, ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (2008)
- David M. Tucker, Lieutenant Lee of Beale Street (1971)
- David M. Tucker, “W. W. Cox,” Beacon Lights of the Race, ed. Green Polonius Hamilton (1911)
- Steve Yarbrough, Visible Spirits (2001)