Contributed by Misty Urban
The town of Buxton, Iowa, came alive Tuesday, February 27 thanks to author Rachelle Chase, who shared details of its history during the Alexander Clark lecture held at Muscatine Community College. In 1900, Ben Buxton of the Consolidated Coal Company founded a coal-mining town in which, for twenty years, residents of Buxton—40 to 55% of whom were African American—lived, worked, and socialized across the color lines that divided the rest of the country.
Chase’s talk, illustrated with pictures from her book Lost Buxton and interviews with former residents, highlighted the uniqueness of life in this community. White and black miners played sports together at the YMCA. White children learned from black teachers. Buxton boasted black doctors, lawyers, undertakers, and a postmistress. Blacks owned hotels, restaurants, stores, and newspapers. Hattie Hutchison, the first black woman in Iowa to earn her pharmacy degree, lived and worked there. Buxton had integrated schools, integrated parks, and interracial marriages.
But by 1929, the coal mines had played out and Buxton disappeared. “Why did they do this—establish this town of equality at a time when no one else did? That’s the million-dollar question,” Chase said. “And where did everybody go?”
Like many in the audience, Niki Malcolm was unfamiliar with Buxton before the talk, but she was impressed by Chase’s presentation. “To hear someone so articulate give such detail—I thoroughly enjoyed it,” Malcom said. Her husband, City Council member Osmond “Oz” Malcolm, sponsored the recent resolution to declare February 25 Alexander Clark Day in Muscatine.
The League of Women Voters co-sponsors the Clark lecture series as part of their mission to secure equal rights and promote social and economic justice. At a time when Jim Crow laws enforced segregation elsewhere, Buxton “is an example of how people worked and lived together,” said Sue Johannsen, president of the Muscatine LWV. “It’s so inspiring.”
Naomi DeWinter, MCC President, introduced the talk by noting Clark’s many contributions to Muscatine, Iowa, and the world. She said the organizing committee was excited to invite Chase for the annual lecture. “It’s a fascinating story, a story that needs to be told in Muscatine,” DeWinter said. She was pleased by how many members of the audience had a personal connection to Buxton.
Chase appreciated the opportunity to visit Muscatine for the first time. “It was a fantastic experience,” she said. “The audience asked great questions.” Chase’s second book on Buxton is forthcoming in January 2019. Find out more about Buxton at LostBuxton.com.