To be Black at the turn of the 20 century was to be a resilient survivor. Black People have and continue to create communities for themselves as a form of self-preservation. Iowa, a majority white state, had thriving black communities throughout its history since the 1800s and the most famous town is Buxton, Iowa. Buxton was a famous mining town known for its equitable social dynamics that existed through the late 1800s into the early 1900s. Iowa’s Black community isn’t as nationally recognized as the black communities such as New Orleans, Atlanta, D.C and etc…. Iowa isn’t readily perceived as a welcoming state for the black community and it’s important to understand how Black communities have sustained themselves in a majority white communities.
Buxton was founded in a county that was a stop along the Underground Railroad and Iowa had recently passed a legislation declaring that Black People were entitled to same amenities as White People. The Consolidated Coal Company founded Buxton Iowa and recruited Black People from the South by promising them steady employment, above average wages, good housing, and the absence of racial discrimination. The CCC did treat all employers alike and Superintendent Ben Buxton did not tolerate mistreatment of Black employees and fired such those who were discriminatory. Buxton, Iowa was unique.
Black Laborers were paid relatively well. White and Black families led relatively comfortable lives. Average income in Buxton was much higher compared the average income in mining towns. Buxton women would take in multiple borders at a time and extra income enabled to families to participate in social functions. A majority of the men were employed at the mines, but only a small percentage of Black men held managerial positions in comparison to White men. White men also had many economic opportunities outside of the mines while Black men were mostly miners. The majority of Black women were employed as domestic worked while White women had autonomous careers such as bookkeepers, farmers, and postmasters. Black people worked low paying hard labor jobs in comparison to their White counterparts.
Buxton social life was segregated. Iowa had ruled that segregation was unconstitutional but the Black and White communities had preferred to remain to themselves. Religion was important to the Buxton Community; many practiced their faiths in Black or White churches. The town itself was not integrated: there were majority Black and White neighborhoods. People of different ethnic background interacted at the company store. A majority of the town’s necessities and goods could be bought at the company store. The company store was mostly staffed by the White men and very few Black men were employed: their reasoning that there were less qualified Black employees. Buxton had three schools and two were integrated. Black and White’s students were educated in the same classroom and the majority of their teachers were White women. One of the schools was located in all White neighborhood and only educated white students. As the population grew the schools became more diverse.
Buxton’s social life did not integrate until the YMCA was built. The YMCA was built to support Black men socially but soon its services to the entire community. The YMCA cost twenty thousand to build and CC contributed twelves thousands of dollars to help fund the project. Men, women, youth, and children participated in the YMCA’s various activities and literary clubs. Women were responsible for organizing community activities. The YMCA helped invigorate Black life and differential Buxton Blacks from Black communities that were settled throughout the nation. Buxton Black was thriving amidst the discrimination that ran amok throughout the era. As the era of Buxton was ending, Black people were employed as doctors, dentist, lawyers, and school presidents. Many Buxton former residents declared that Buxton was the Black Utopia when compared to other cities such as Des Moines.
Beran Janice A. Diamond in Iowa: Black, Buxton, and Baseball. The Journal of Negro History Vol. 75, No. 3/4 (Summer – Autumn, 1990), pp. 81-95 (15 pages)Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History