MONROE COUNTY, Iowa — An empty field is not what you’d expect when looking for a revolutionary city. “There is only one major structure remaining: the stone warehouse,” said Rachelle Chase, author of “Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa.”
Despite the barren land, to Chase, the town is much more. She said, “They did not accept or condone racial violence or racism and if you could’t accept that, you were told to move on.”
In Monroe County, southwest of Oskaloosa, Buxton was owned by a coal consolidation company and gained thousands of African-Americans when white coal miners began to strike and refused to work in the late 1800s. “They actually went to Virginia and recruited African-Americans,” said Chase.
With as many as 10,000 residents, it was the largest town in America where African-Americans were in the majority. “You had black people living next to white people, children going to the same schools and being taught by black and white teachers. Men working next to each other getting the same pay,” said Chase.
One-time resident Edward Carter became the first black graduate from the University of Iowa College of Medicine. “You had black men in the U.S. getting lynched for accidentally touching a white woman and here you have a doctor delivering white babies,” Chase said.
George H. Woodson helped co-found the Niagara Movement, known today as the NAACP, which played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement. He and fellow resident Samuel Brown helped create the National Bar Association in Des Moines which is now the largest and oldest professional association for black lawyers. “People look at this and they are inspired,” said Chase.
When demand for Iowa coal dried up so did Buxton in 1927. “The coal in Iowa, the demand for it went down. Chase said, “The quality wasn’t as good as say in Illinois.”
The cemetery seems to be the only thing fully intact in Buxton, but for those who who are buried here or once lived here, their legacies continue to be a north star of racial relations in America. “It was a time when against the odds people were getting along and there was inclusion as oppose to some of the divisiveness we see today,” she said.
Rachelle Chase will be speaking about her book at the Waukee Public Library Sunday at 1:30 p.m. You can purchase her book here at the Arcadia Publishing website.