Mine Work in Iowa Means Opportunity for African American Workers in the Early 1900s

In the early 1900s, hundreds of African-Americans came to Iowa to work in coal mines. This segment from the "Searching for Buxton" documentary features an historian's account of why they came and how they encouraged families and friends to join them.


Transcript

Simon Estes: Years before Great-Aunt Kathryn was born, Serge’s family had traveled to Iowa from Charlottesville, Virginia. They were among hundreds of African-American miners who made the j ourney. Mine work in Iowa presented an economic opportunity for poor black miners from the South. According to Dorothy Schweider, a retired historian, along with her Iowa State colleagues, she interviewed dozens of Buxton survivors more than three decades ago.

Dorothy Schweider, Professor Emeritus of History, Iowa State University: It is our understanding that the first African-American families who came in to work in the coal mines in Southern Iowa, they were actually brought in as strikebreakers. Once a black miner would arrive he would write a letter to a brother, cousin, uncle, whatever back in Tennessee, back in Virginia and he would say, why don't you come here, you can get a job, the living conditions are good and he would encourage friends and family to also come and apparently a good many of them did.

 

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