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Most coal mining communities are transitory due to the demands of the mining industry. However, that was not the case with Buxton, Iowa, a coal mining colony with a large black population that grew in southern Iowa at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Beginning in the 1890s Ben Buxton, the President and principal stockholder of the Consolidation Coal Company and North Western Railroad of Chicago, sent agents to the southern states to recruit black laborers to work in the coal mines of Iowa following strikes by white miners. Most of those recruits settled in the town of Buxton, founded by the company in 1895 to house the new arrivals. Most of the miners arrived from the Virginia and West Virginia coal mining regions.
At its peak in 1910, Buxton’s population was between eight and ten thousand people. Although it was usually described as “a black man’s town” it was in fact a multi-ethnic community throughout its history. Swedes, Slovaks and Welsh immigrants were the largest European groups although African Americans were by far the largest ethnic group in the town.
There was no overt segregation in Buxton. The Consolidated Coal Company treated blacks and whites equally in employment and housing. Schools were racially integrated and taught by black and white teachers.
Buxton’s most prominent early resident, E.A. Carter, the son of a black miner who arrived in the 1890s, became the first black graduate from the University of Iowa, Medical College, in 1907. Dr. Carter returned to Buxton where he became assistant chief surgeon for Consolidated Coal. In 1915 he was appointed chief surgeon for the company.
African Americans born in Buxton remembered having scant knowledge of racial discrimination. Sue Williams, a former resident remarked, “I never heard the word segregation or knew its meaning until I moved to Chicago.”
By the early 1920s the decreasing demand for coal to power locomotives forced Consolidated Coal to close most of its nearby mines. Gradually residents left the town and by 1927 Buxton had lost all of its residents.
David M. Gradwohl & Nancy M. Osborn, Exploring Buried Buxton (Ames: Iowa University State Press, 1984); Dorothy Schwieder, Buxton (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1987); Eric A. Smith, Buxton, Iowa: An Experiment in Racial Integration, The Iowa Genealogical Society, Hawkeye Heritage (Vol. 34, Issue 3, Fall 1999).
Afro-American Genealogical & Historical Society of Chicago