Buxton, Iowa, An Integrated Town in the 1900s

Buxton, Iowa was an integrated coal mining town from about 1900 to 1920. It was quite unusual in an era when oppressive Jim Crow Laws were enforced to keep Blacks and whites separate, and Blacks subordinate and disenfranchised. The groups lived mostly in homes side by side and Black racism was rare in a town that had a Black majority.  Black and white miners received the same wages and, according to an article on Wikipedia, in 1913 Black men made up about 80% of the United Mine Workers of America union.

In 1910 Buxton’s population was between eight and ten thousand.  Many of it’s white residents were from Sweden, The British Isles and Slovakia.

Consolidated Coal Company owned all of the homes and businesses in Buxton.  An observer once remarked that Mr. Buxton wasn’t trying to create a democracy because he was an autocrat, but a benevolent autocrat.

In 1880 CCC and white miners at its Muchakinock, Iowa mining operation got into a dispute prompting CCC to recruit many Blacks from the South, particularly from Virginia and West Virginia, to serve as strike breakers.  The Black miners worked out so well that the company retained them.  Many Blacks held key positions in Muchakinock including school principle and pharmacist.  In 1900 when the coal was exhausted in that area, CCC opened the Buxton location.  This aided in the great Black migration

Housing was usually assigned according to a person’s arrival in Buxton and not on the basis of race.  Similar to Muchakinock, Blacks played an important role in Buxton.  They were miners, lawyers, dentists, doctors, superintendent of schools, deputy sheriffs, postmaster, justice of the peace, and the only cashier at the Bank of Buxton was Black.  Also, the town had a Black baseball team called the Buxton Wonders.

Black and white teachers taught both Black and white students and according to a former Black student neither were prejudiced toward the students.

A 95-year-old Black former resident was asked about a fond memory and she recounted greeting her father, who was a miner, at the train station every day when he returned from work.  Her younger sister recalled looking forward to visiting her neighbor, a German woman, who would rock her in her arms.

CCC was forced to close the mine in 1920 because the demand for coal had waned.  Blacks who grew up in Buxton had largely been shielded from racial prejudice and segregation, but when they moved away some say it felt as if they had stepped back in time 100 years.

There appears to be little documentation as to why the CCC owners seemed to defy the racist conventions of that period.

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