History of Indianola
Indianola was initially known as Indian Bayou and was inhabited by the Choctaw Indians. In 1882, it was renamed Eureka. The city was also named Belengate before it adopted its present name. It was established on the site of an ancient Indian camp. According to a folk etymology, the city was named after an Indian princess named “Ola.” Indianola was incorporated in 1886.
The town was originally named “Indian Bayou” in 1882 because the site along the river bank was formerly inhabited by a Choctaw Indian village. Between 1882 and 1886, the town’s name was changed from “Indian Bayou” to “Eureka,” then to “Belengate,” and finally “Indianola,” which was allegedly in honor of an Indian princess named “Ola.” The town population developed at this site due to the location of a lumber mill on the river.
In 1891, Minnie Cox was appointed postmaster of Indianola, becoming the first known African American female postmaster in the United States. Her rank was raised from fourth class to third class in 1900, and she was appointed to a full four-year term. Cox’s position was one of the most respected and lucrative public posts in Indianola, as it served approximately 3,000 patrons and paid $1,100 annually—a large sum at that time. White resentment to Cox’s prestigious position began to grow, and in 1902 some white residents in Indianola drew up a petition requesting Cox’s resignation. James K. Vardaman, editor of the The Greenwood Commonwealth and a white supremacist, began delivering speeches reproaching the people of Indianola for “tolerating a negro [sic] wench as a postmaster.” Racial tensions grew, and threats of physical harm led Cox to submit her resignation to take effect January 1, 1903. The incident attracted national attention, and President Roosevelt refused to accept her resignation, feeling Cox had been wronged, and the authority of the federal government was being compromised. “Roosevelt stood resolute. Unless Cox’s detractors could prove a reason for her dismissal other than the color of her skin, she would remain the Indianola postmaster”. Roosevelt closed Indianola’s post office on January 2, 1903, and rerouted mail to Greenville; Cox continued to receive her salary. That same month, the United States Senate debated the Indianola postal event for four hours, and Cox left Indianola for her own safety and did not return. In February 1904, the post office was reopened, but demoted in rank from third class to fourth class.
In the early and mid-twentieth century a number of Blues musicians originated in the area, including B.B. King, who worked in the local cotton industry in Indianola in the 1940s before pursuing a professional musical career.
In July 1954, two months after the Supreme Court of the United States announced its unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ruling that school segregation was unconstitutional, the local plantation manager Robert B. Patterson met with a group of like-minded individuals in a private home in Indianola to form the White Citizens’ Council. Its goal was to resist any implementation of racial integration in Mississippi.
The Indianola Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.