Born under Jim Crow

A conversation with Professor Buffington

Born under Jim Crow, educator, social activist, and Cultural Anthropologist Professor Terry Williams-Buffington, a sixth-generation Mississippian,

shares her passion for social justice with personal stories of her own lived experiences in Mississippi’s Jim Crow society. Ms. Buffington was actively involved with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the sixties. Much of her ensuing anthropological research focused on the lived experiences of Black males who, in 1960, were high school students enrolled in the “Negro” public school system in the town of West Point, Mississippi. Her work focuses on their attitudes toward their white counterparts; their impact on local and national movement activity, and the strong presence and sway of the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee field organizers John Buffington, Ralph Featherstone and Stokley Carmichael (SNCC), in the town of West Point, Mississippi.

Ms. Buffington has over thirty years experience in higher education administration and has worked as an instructor of record in Anthropology at several institutions. She maintains active research interests in Southern folklorist culture and history and is a member of the Black Prairie Blues Project. Ms. Buffington’s lectures and talks share how her life experiences shaped her work in higher education and the challenges of being a Black staff member on predominantly white college campuses.

“Even though Jim Crow Legislations are long gone, I can still feel his ghost lingering around our community”

Professor Buffington became the first student of color to enroll and graduate with a Liberal Arts background in Southern Culture and History from the Center for the Study of Southern Culture under the founding director and mentorship Dr. William Ferris, University of Mississippi. Ferris, a two-time Grammy Awards winner for the multimedia set “Voices of Mississippi,” is Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Ms. Buffington received her Masters in Cultural Anthropology under the academic mentorship of Dr. Charles Williams, Professor Emeritus, of the University of Memphis, Tennessee.

Professor Buffington recently donated her civil rights movement collection to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. The Terry Buffington Papers document Buffington’s anthropological work with Black men from West Point, Mississippi, who came of age during the civil rights movement and were influenced by SNCC field organizers. In addition to tapes and transcripts, the collection contains materials documenting life and work in 1950s-1970s Clay County, Mississippi, materials from Buffington’s late husband, John Buffington, and a scrapbook highlighting the Oxford-Afro Cultural Center, 1981-1983, with which Terry Buffington was heavily involved. Also included are photographs, printed materials, LPs, films, and a commemorative poster of a SNCC organizational chart. You can visit the collection here.

Ms. Buffington’s work continues to highlight the south’s complex cultural environment and Black Mississippians’ “sense of place” in 1960, Mississippi, as well as attitudes towards southern whites a Jim Crow system that guided cultural norms and society movements.   

Like many social justice activists, Professor Buffington is especially concerned about Jim Crow’s rise and his masterful grip on America as well as the on-going saga of America’ s structural inequalities, economic and educational stratification, generational poverty, racial discrimination and institutional racism. The inexplicable continuation of a denial of and access to health care for poor people and the “shoot down” tactics used to kill Black and Brown people—America’s ongoing saga of structural inequality, generational poverty, skin color, and gender discrimination. 

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