Buxton’s Emancipation Day Celebrations Didn’t Commemorate Juneteenth

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19th, commemorates the end of slavery—specifically, June 19, 1865, the day Union soldiers traveled through Galveston, Texas announcing that the Civil War had ended and enslaved African Americans were free. While I have not yet found any indication of Juneteenth celebrations in Buxton, I discovered that Buxton residents (and other Iowans) celebrated earlier dates in history.

Emancipation Day—Celebrating September 22, 1862

These Emancipation Day celebrations commemorated the signing of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln on September 22, 1862.[1]

“That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; …”

~Abraham Lincoln, Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation

In interviews, numerous former residents mentioned Emancipation Day celebrations. These were a big deal in Buxton—so big that Consolidation Coal Company gave employees the day off so they could celebrate the day. People from nearby towns flocked to Buxton to participate in the festivities.

The Iowa Bystander article below provides a glimpse into the celebration that took place on September 21, 1901. The day began with a parade led by the famed Buxton Coronet Band, followed by members of the men’s and women’s fraternal orders, churches, a drum corps, members of the 9th Calvary Regiment, and others. After a lunch break in Jackson Park where participants enjoyed roasted sheep, pig, and “fatted calf” along with a concert, the program began. Prominent attorney, S. Joe Brown spoke about the “Negro in History” and Maggie Coleman read a paper on Emancipation. A baseball game, shooting match, banquet, music and more followed. The celebration appears to have lasted until midnight.

Buxton Emancipation Day Celebration from
Iowa State Bystander, September 27, 1901

Emancipation Day—Celebrating August 1, 1834

Buxton residents (and other Iowans) celebrated August 1, 1834, which was the day slavery ended in the British West Indies. According to Emancipation Day Celebrations: the Commemoration of Slavery and Freedom in Iowa by Leslie A. Schwalm, “black Iowans used the commemoration of emancipation in the British West Indies as an opportunity to criticize the persistence of slavery in the ‘land of the free.’” Some cities used August to celebrate both emancipation events.

Like other celebrations, this was a big event. On August 6, 1904, Buxton celebrated this day. But residents didn’t just celebrate in Buxton. In the article below from the August 4, 1903 Evenings-Times Republican, residents from the Muchakinock area and Buxton traveled to Marshalltown to celebrate. It was common for residents of one city to travel to participate in the celebrations in other towns.

Buxton Emancipation Day Celebration from
Evening-Times Republican, August 4, 1903

Other Emancipation Day Celebrations

January 1st, the day the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, was also celebrated throughout Iowa. In 1901, the Iowa State Bystander referred to this as “the real natal day for the American Negro.”

Like elsewhere in the nation, celebrating freedom from slavery was important in Buxton and throughout Iowa.

See “Emancipation Proclamation” at History.com and NPR’s “Lincoln and the Path to the Emancipation Proclamation” interview with Christopher Bonner, author of Remaking the Republic: Black Politics and the Creation of American Citizenship