Searching for Buxton

Searching for Buxton | Documentary
Feb 10, 2011 | 30 min

This feature documentary explores how one Iowa town in the 1900s became the oasis for racial harmony in an era where segregation was the common practice. The program is narrated by international opera star Simon Estes, an African-American Iowan whose father was a coal miner.

When it comes to race relations, Iowa is probably best known for helping nominate and elect Barack Obama to the presidency. But a hundred years ago at a time when segregation was the law of the land, this 30-minute program traces how blacks and whites lived side-by-side, worked together and went to school together in a now-vanished mining town in south central Iowa – Buxton.

Black miners who traveled to Buxton from the south, and immigrant miners who emigrated there from Europe were paid equal wages for a day’s work, and blacks in Buxton flourished for approximately a quarter century. But the town was abandoned in 1925 when the coal ran out. Only then did some of the town’s African-Americans encounter racism, and discover segregation when they had to move to other cities and towns across Iowa and across the country.

Today, virtually nothing remains of the town of Buxton, and there are few survivors. In the program, the filmmaker goes searching for his family past in this long-disappeared Iowa coal mining town and discovers that much of the prosperity and goodwill his relatives enjoyed nearly a century ago is elusive today.