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Buxton Political Awakening

THE FIRST BLACK POWER TOWN

This article appeared in the February 1972 issue of
Ebony Vol.XXVII No. 4
Photographs selected from those included with the article.

SLAVES' DESCENDANTS KEEP PRIDE ALIVE IN NORTH BUXTON, CANADA

FOUR years before the Civil War broke out in the United States, 300 blacks - most of them former slaves from Southern plantations strode quietly and proudly, along the streets of the Canadian city of Chatham to vote in the Court House. They had journeyed ten miles from Buxton an area settled six years previously by 15 freed slaves of Louisiana educator William King.

Children's Choir

Religious heritages of two cultures merge in Junior choir composed of North Buxton's two churches, The British Methodist Episcopal and the First Baptist. After the Civil War Thomas W. Stringer a Buxton man established 35 AME churches in Mississippi.

When the voting ended that day, the incumbent, Provincial Parliament member from the area, who had won his seat two years previously on an anti-Negro immigration platform had been defeated in the first demonstration of political black power on the North American continent.

Through the Civil War years Buxton enjoyed an economic and social advancement almost miraculous for people who until a few years before had been forcibly denied the right even to marry or to learn to read. In the descendants of Buxton's settlers, the heritage of an amazing adventure in freedom lies today.

 

FINALLY THEY COULD HAVE REAL FAMILIES

MANY slaves who fled to Buxton did so not primarily to escape cruel physical punishment but rather to escape something, which to many seemed far worse. Unlike the white immigrants who had come to Canada from Scotland or Ireland or from the U.S., the blacks regarded the opportunity to create and raise families as the most precious gem offered by refuge in Canada.

Phillip Shadd

Fighter for black's rights for many years, Ira Shadd's brother Phillip (top), 77 a farmer helped organize the National Unity organization in 1944, which fought for passage of Canada's Fair Employment Practices Law.

In slavery, they had had no real hope of this. A master could at any time sell the children of his slaves. If slave parents objected to the master's abuse of their children, the parents might be sold away while the children were kept to be further abused.

In Canada, having gained freedom and control of themselves and their children, the former slaves and the free blacks who joined them demonstrated a fierce energy and will to succeed. They worked tirelessly throughout the year clearing and farming their land or helping to build the Great Western Railroad which was being extended through the area. Using $3,000 invested by blacks from Toronto and Buffalo, the Buxton settlers formed a cooperative to build a factory for making pearl ash (a type of refined potash), a brickyard and a saw-and-grist mill. The town began producing lumber and barrel staves and selling corn, wheat, oats, tobacco and other crops.

Within ten years after the settlement was founded some of the former slaves had paid in full the government price for their land ($2.50 an acre), and some had enough money left to send their children to college.

Arthur Alexander

Arthur H. Alexander (bottom), 85 was North Buxton's school principal for 37 years.

Now that these early industries are gone, North Buxton's wealth is mainly in farmland that has multiplied in value, and in a brilliant history it wants the world to know.

 

BUXTON WON'T DIE; IT'S LOVED TOO MUCH

THE Buxton settlement's influence on United States history extended beyond its function as a refuge for slaves. Seventy of its young men went south to fight slavery. Two of Buxton's sons, Anderson R. Abbott and Jerome Riley, were among the doctors who in 1863 set up Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D. C., the first public hospital for blacks in the U. S. After the war, Buxton's population, which had reached well over 1,000, declined sharply as families returned to their former homes in the States and young people journeyed south to aid in Reconstruction. James T. Rapier, for instance, served in the U. S. Congress from Alabama from 1873 to 1875. Thomas W. Stringer, who became general superintendent of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Mississippi, established 35 churches in that state. He helped develop Negro Masonry in Mississippi and organized the Fraternal Life Insurance Benefit which became the most successful black cooperative business in the state.

Mrs. Electa Rhue & Mrs. William Nuttall

Daughter of a runaway slave, Mrs. Electa Rhue, 90, talks with Mrs. William Nutall, one of three of her daughters who have moved to the U.S. Mrs. Rhue recently gave her daughters land to build houses near her home.

After the post-Civil War exodus, the black population of Buxton never again reached its earlier level. Today, it is usual for children who have finished their education to leave the village to find jobs and establish families in other areas of Canada or in the U. S. As more whites have moved into the area, the black community that is left has consolidated in the northern part of the original 9,000 acres of the original Buxton. But though jobs in the area have become fewer and fewer with automation of the farms and loss of work on the railroads, no one in North Buxton fears that the village will disappear. "It's a great place to bring up kids and to retire," says Ira Shadd. "When people move away they usually keep hold of some land here because they know they'll be back someday."