An Unparalleled Story of Prosperity and Harmony in a 1900s Coal Mining Town

The residents of Buxton, IA enjoyed fair wages, good housing, and nice amenities, regardless of the color of their skin. Did the founders of this town have this in mind? Or, was this just a wonderful accident? Two historians share their theories in this segment from the "Searching for Buxton" documentary.


Simon Estes: All of these complicated feelings about race that endure today makes what happened in Buxton that much more remarkable. To this day, no one quite knows why Buxton developed the way it did. Was it because the coal mine operators, the Buxton family, were especially enlightened? Did it have anything to do with the concept of welfare capitalism that emerged during that era? Or something else altogether? Even those who have studied this almost unparalleled story of prosperity and harmony admit to being uncertain.

Dorothy Schweider, Professor Emeritus of History, Iowa State University: I think we really know a good bit about Buxton but there are many things we don't know. And one of the great unknowns to me is did John Buxton or Ben Buxton really envision something of an African-American utopia? Did they really see this as a place where racial harmony would exist, where families would be treated equally, when the men went into the mines they would receive equal pay for equal work? We don't know that.

Whatever it was, Jason Madison and others now believe that what happened in Buxton needs to be taught in Iowa schools and nationally, that this story not be lost, that history be preserved.

Dr. David Gradwohl,  Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Iowa State University: I think it's extremely important for young people and even old people to know where they fit into history, what is their place. We're not just little isolated specks floating out. And I guess that's what I find exciting, if that could exist at that time in Iowa, then why can't it exist all over the United States today?

Excerpt from "Searching for Buxton," Produced by The Communication Research Institute of William Penn University, Iowa PBS, 2011

© 2011 The Communication Research Institute of William Penn University


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