Buford Wallace Posey was born to Emma and Vance Posey on August 18, 1925, in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Raised at a time when politician Theodore G. Bilbo dominated Mississippi politics with his program of economic populism and a message of white supremacy, Posey held unique views as a white southerner. He rejected the entrenched system of racial segregation and instead sought ways to support the efforts of African Americans throughout the South who lived under restrictive Jim Crow laws. Though his hometown features prominently in narratives of the civil rights movement as a result of the 1964 murders of Freedom Summer workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, Posey and his contributions to this case remain unknown.
Posey was an avid reader as a child, and his schoolteacher mother provided him with an unlimited access to books, some of which introduced him to ideas that were taboo in segregated Mississippi schools at the time. After graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) with a degree in history and a license to teach, he embarked on a lifelong commitment to civil and human rights activism. Like many others, Posey’s mobilization first occurred during his own service in the US Army during World War II. He recognized that African American veterans deserved the right to vote in the country they had risked their lives to defend, and in 1946 he paid the ten-dollar fee to join the Neshoba County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He was the chapter’s first white member. Despite holding such controversial views, Posey evaded scrutiny from the white community until he actively vocalized his support for Harry Truman, rather than the Dixiecrats, in the 1948 presidential election.
Posey openly challenged racial inequality in several writings for the New York–based publication, the American Socialist. In a 1956 article titled “Cash and Carry Justice,” he highlighted the limited impact of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision as the South continued to promote a separate and unequal model of education. In another article, Posey appealed directly to Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson to take direct action against the continuation of racial segregation. This affiliation with both socialism and the civil rights movement placed Posey at the center of several reports produced by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission. As investigators monitored his activity and connections to other activists such as Charles Evers, they concluded that Posey posed a serious communist threat to the United States. This perceived affiliation was directly linked to the anticommunist hysteria of the early Cold War as southern segregationists exploited these anxieties to discredit activists who fought for racial equality.
Concerns about Posey intensified in 1964 following the Freedom Summer murders in Philadelphia. He is best known for offering information to the FBI and exposing corruption within the Neshoba County community in a televised NBC interview. Posey used this forum to provide useful details about the crime in a late-night Huntley-Brinkley Report, and he was one of the first people to suggest the involvement of the city’s sheriff, Lawrence A. Rainey. Unsurprisingly, he became the target of abuse by other community members and was viciously attacked by a member of the Ku Klux Klan who jabbed a pistol into his stomach and threatened to kill him. The Klan even accused Posey of committing the murders himself in a special Neshoba County Fair issue of their newsletter, The Klan Ledger. This increasingly hostile environment resulted in Posey leaving Mississippi shortly after he was denounced as a “lying communist” by governor Paul B. Johnson. Posey remained involved in civil rights activism as he worked alongside the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee in the later part of the 1960s. He eventually returned to the state of Mississippi later in life, and passed away in Hattiesburg at the age of ninety in 2015. Two oral histories with Posey are currently held at the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi.
- Gordon David Gibson, Unitarians and Universalists in the Civil Rights Era (2015)
- “Interview with Buford Posey” (2003), Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, University of Southern Mississippi
- “Interview with Buford Posey” (2007), Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, University of Southern Mississippi
- Olivia Bethany Moore, “‘Black and White Together, We Shall Win’: Southern White Activists in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement” (master’s thesis, University of Southern Mississippi 2016)
- Michael Newton, The Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi: A History (2010)