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Buxton

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The southeast Iowa town of Buxton became a center for coal mining in the early 1900s.  It was also an integrated town in a state almost entirely white.  Historians Dorothy Schwieder, Joseph Hraba, and Elmer Schwieder argued that it was an “atypical mining community in many respects.”  A majority of its early twentieth century population of about 5,000 was African-American.  Blacks and whites were paid the same for labor; the two races lived together in residential areas.  Blacks and whites mingled at work and in town. 

For most African-Americans “life in Buxton marked a golden time” in their lives, wrote the authors.  Many residents had been slaves or sharecroppers and knew that Buxton was a special place.  Black families owned their homes and some sent their children to college.  Prosperity in the coal industry allowed for a place like Buxton to exist.  Consolidation Coal Company, which ran the mining operation, allowed independent businesses to operate and did not force employees to live in company housing.  Workers could buy land and farm for additional income or retirement security.  Homes were comfortable and had a quarter-acre lot.  The company did not control schools and churches. 

Buxton flourished from 1900 to 1914, but it declined in the next decade, and the company abandoned it by 1923.  Falling demand for coal and labor troubles undermined the economic viability of Buxton and other coal towns and camps.  Mines at Buxton shut down, residents left for other mining work, and homes were moved to new towns.  For years after its abandonment, former black residents returned to hold summer reunions.  They celebrated its existence, but grieved over the loss of what the authors called a “utopia” for African Americans.