Searching for Buxton | Full Program

Feb 10, 2011  | 30 min  | 0

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.

Related Resources

  • Coal Mining in Iowa 1870-1940
    The earliest settlers mined coal among the hills of south central Iowa. They used coal to heat their homes and cook their food in areas were timber was not available.
  • African-Americans in Iowa, 1838-2005 | Iowa Pathways
    African-American history is the story of the relationship binding so-called “blacks” and “whites” in America. This relationship has affected churches, schools, businesses, labor unions, politics, marriages and families, sports and arts since 1619.
  • The Great Buxton | Iowa Pathways
    The history of Buxton, Iowa, is unique for its times. Racial integration and harmony existed there at a time when racial tolerance was the exception and not the rule. Buxton coal mine number 18 lasted only 20 years, 1900-1920. But its impact on Iowa and America remains through books, essays and historical accounts.
  • Buxton: Racial harmony in an Iowa coal mining town
    Buxton, Iowa was one of the most unusual yet successful mining towns in Iowa’s history.