Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

Diamonds in Iowa: Blacks, Buxton, and Baseball

Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

Diamonds in Iowa: Blacks, Buxton, and Baseball

Article excerpt

Between the years 1900 and 1926 in the unlikely state of Iowa, there was a coal mining town, Buxton, where a type of racial equality existed. Blacks and whites worked, played and studied side by side. During a time and in a region where racial diversity was a rarity and integration an uncommon practice, Buxton was unusual. Buxton was a relatively prosperous coal mining community. There was a quantum difference between the life--style and opportunities for Buxton Negroes and blacks who lived in other Iowa towns, in neighboring states, and the South. Because the Buxton Negroes had adequate earnings with some disposable income they participated in social and civic activities. Many of those activities, particularly sports and entertainment, were provided through the Buxton YMCA. Sports and other leisure activities were sometimes segregated but more often bridged cultural and racial differences. So it was that while the attainment of equality and provision of opportunity was often an illusive dream for people of c olor in the United States in the early 1900s, it was more nearly a reality for Negroes who lived in Buxton the first quarter of the twentieth century.

The Consolidated Coal Company [CCC] and the town of Buxton were located in Monroe County, Iowa. Residents in that county had been part of the underground transportation system wherein former slaves were transported north to start a new life in the 1860s. By 1892 the Iowa legislature had passed a law stating that all persons could vote and were entitled to the use of public amenities. That legislation brought a degree of equity to Negroes living in Iowa.

Although blacks in Iowa were few in number and were quite dispersed there was a network for communication. The oldest and major black newspaper in the state, The Bystander, published in Des Moines, had a wide circulation in 76 Iowa counties, 26 states, and two foreign countries. The Bystander carried news from all communities where blacks resided. It reported that Buxton has styled itself the Negro Athens of the Northwest." (1) Former residents agreed with a Buxton resident who wrote in 1940 after having moved to another Iowa community fifteen years earlier, that Buxton was the black man's utopia in Iowa." (2)

The coal industry--euphemistically called black diamonds--provided full-time employment and resulted in the settlement of a black population never before or afterwards paralleled percentage-wise in Iowa history. While previous Buxton studies have been principally archeological and descriptive within the historical framework, none has examined the role of sport and recreation in that community. it is the intent of this study to describe the community, recreational opportunities, CCC's involvement, and to analyze the rationale for such extensive provision of sports and recreation.

Buxton came into existence when the CCC located its mining camp on 30,000 acres of rich coal land in southern Iowa. In 1900 Iowa was ranked fifteenth among the states in coal production and the CCC was the largest and most influential mining company in Iowa. Coal production in Iowa, closely tied to the railroad industry, had been expanding since 1870 as railroad mileage increased. CCC, organized in 1873, was one of several companies that capitalized on this rapid growth and established coal mines in the most productive areas.

As early as 1875, J. E. Buxton, the general superintendent of CCC, had recruited 3,000 men from Southern states to work in the several mines operated by the company in Mahaska County. While initially hired as strike breakers, the blacks among the recruits proved to be good miners. Hobe Armstrong, a Negro who had been raised by a white family, was the principal recruiter for CCC. He informed Negroes in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Missouri that work with the CCC was an opportunity for steady employment, above average wages, good housing and a minimum, if not a complete absence, of racial discrimination. …

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