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Buxton, Iowa: The Former Black Utopia

Lesson Plan Item

General Information
Grade 9th Grade Class US History Length of Lesson 50 Minutes
Lesson Title Buxton, Iowa: The Former Black Utopia
Unit Title Iowa's Impact on History
Unit Compelling Question How did groups of Iowans influence history?
Historical Context:

Miner's checks, also known as lamp checks, tokens, or tags, were used by mining companies to keep track of how many workers were in a mine in case an accident occurred. This miner's check was used in Buxton, Iowa.

This photograph shows one of the mines located near Buxton, Iowa, Mine #13.

Buxton was a mining town founded in 1895 by the Consolidation Coal Company (CCC), which supplied the Chicago and Northwestern Railway. The company established Buxton after a four-year search for new coal veins. After its search, the company purchased 8600 acres of land in Monroe County and 1600 acres in neighboring Mahaska County in 1900 for $275,000. The mining business drew approximately 5,000 people to Buxton, creating a thriving economic and social community. Buxton soon became the largest unincorporated city in the nation and the largest coal town west of the Mississippi River. The prosperous coal mining town was one of few in Iowa's history to have a majority African American population.

Equality was an important part of Buxton's success. Miners were paid equal wages, a standard home was provided for each family, and segregation was not allowed. Many African Americans became prominent business and community leaders. At a time when racism and segregation were prevalent in American society, the residents of Buxton experienced relative equality. Five years after the town was established, 55% of its residents were African American.

Buxton experienced a series of events that led to its slow demise beginning in 1914. That year, miners worked fewer days due to labor disputes, an explosion in one of the town's nearby mines led to its permanent closure, and the CCC established a new coal camp ten miles west of Buxton. All three events drew residents out of the town, a trend that continued in the following years when large fires destroyed parts of Buxton and nearby settlements. Furthermore, after the coal boost provided by World War I ended in 1917, the coal industry in Iowa rapidly declined. The industrialization of coal mining also contributed to Buxton's decline, as Iowa's coal formations did not adapt well to large-scale mining operations and railroads began to rely more heavily on eastern coal.
By 1916, the Iowa Bystander, an African American newspaper, observed that Buxton "looked like a deserted village."  By 1919, the population of Buxton had dwindled to less than 400, and in 1923, Consolidation Coal Company moved its headquarters out of Buxton. Two years later, the company was bought out by Superior Coal Company. In 1927, Super Coal Company closed its last mine in Monroe County.

In the early 1980s, Iowa State University conducted an archeological dig at the Buxton site. Using maps, old photographs, oral histories, and the help of former residents, historians and archeologists uncovered Buxton. As a result of the project, the Buxton site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a list maintained by the National Park Service, in 1983.

~ Matthew Miller, Teaching Iowa History Team
Lesson Supporting Question How/Why/Was Buxton a Black Utopia?
Lesson Overview

The late town of Buxton, Iowa was home to a great number of African-Americans. During the time of coal mining, the Coal Consolidation Company bought all the mines in the area and established Buxton in 1895. Consolidation built housing, schools and more for its population. Housing went to whoever came first for work. African Americans were brought in from the south as ‘strikebreakers’. It was what many considered a ‘Black Utopia’. Unlike other towns in Iowa, Buxton fostered equality among white immigrants from Europe and black migrants from the south. African Americans were able to have their own churches, schools, and businesses. All the miners received equal and high wages. This led the town to be 55% African American. There was no segregation and the community lived in harmony. However, as the years went on, coal mining began to decline along with Buxton. Diesel and electricity led to the decline of coal-powered trains while fires destroyed parts of Buxton. By 1927, the people and Buxton disappeared.

Primary Sources Used
Resources Needed








File history_of_iowa_worksheet.docx, File buxton_iowa_.pptx
Lesson Target
  • Students will be able to evaluate whether Buxton had an impact on Iowa's environmental and cultural history by looking at a primary source. (Evaluate)
  • Students will look at an image from Buxton and complete a worksheet about it.
  • Students will be able to summarize how Buxton impacted Iowa, its people, and its economy. (Understand)
  • Students will complete an exit ticket to determine their comprehension of Buxton.
Lesson Themes Types of Business and Industries, Workers, Towns, African American Experience, Innnovators
Lesson Procedure
Step Procedure Time Differentiation plan / Additional Information
1 “What is a utopia? Alright, has anyone seen or read the Hunger Games novels? What type of genre did the series fit into? Correct, they fit into a dystopian genre. What happened in the Hunger Games? It was a period of unpleasantness in an undesirable community/world. A utopia is the opposite of that. It is what some consider to be a place of perfectness. In the late 1800s, many scholars believed there to be a utopia in Southern Iowa. A place that some considered a ‘Black Utopia’. It was a time of equality among whites and blacks where no segregation was found. In 1927, this town disappeared but its uniqueness did not. This place was called Buxton, Iowa.     ~5 Minutes  

Google Slides on Buxton

Slides 2, 3, 4, and 6 have notes for students to take. The slides will be read out loud. Some slides have a question that will allow students to ponder as they go through the presentation.

Video Clips (embedded in presentation - from IPT)

Slide 5 has two videos from Iowa Public Television. This will show students how past residents remembered their time in Buxton. It will also feature how different their lives were once they left Buxton. 

After the video, I will ask some questions:

What was the biggest takeaway from the videos? Do you think everyone realized that life outside for African Americans was different in treatment? What is the main reason for Buxton being ahead of its time for African Americans?

~30 Minutes  

Artifact Worksheet

The artifact worksheet will be handed out to each student. Students may get into groups of 2 or 3 but each student has to complete their own worksheet. I will tell students that they will be completing the worksheet by analyzing the artifact. Students can use their notes and Google if they need to better understand what they are looking at. This artifact is an image of Mine 13. These will be turned in before class has ended.

~10 Minutes  

Exit Ticket 

The exit ticket will be given at the end of class. I will have students take a sheet of paper and tear in half to split with someone next to them. I will then put the Exit Ticket slide on the board. Here, students will answer three questions to get them thinking about the impact of Buxton in History. It was a town ahead of its time. The students will turn in their ticket before they leave

3-5 Minutes  
Formative Assessment
(How will you use the formative assessments to monitor and inform instruction?)
  • Artifact Worksheet: The worksheet will ask students to analyze the artifact using information from the Google Slides and information on Google. It will ask about what they see and how it was important at the time. This will determine if they use the information to understand the sources. Exit Ticket: This will focus on checking whether the students understood the radical differences of this Black Utopia and how it later affected the people once they moved out of Buxton.
Summative Assessment
(How does the lesson connect to planned summative assessment(s)?)
Author Information
Author Erin Preussner Reviewer Chad Christopher, History Education, University of Northern Iowa Created 02/18/2020 Last Edited 04/11/2020
Lesson Plan Development Notes: Teaching Methods, University of Northern Iowa, Fall 2019

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