Buford Boone Though not a native Alabamian, James Buford Boone Sr. (1909-1983) nonetheless became one of the state’s leading voices for moderation during the tumultuous modern civil rights era. As publisher of the Tuscaloosa News, he wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial chastising the University of Alabama (UA) and local residents for their reaction to Autherine Lucy‘s admission to the university in the mid-1950s. Boone put his professional reputation and livelihood at risk to advocate for law and order.
Boone was born in 1909 in Newnan, Georgia, to James and Maude Boone. He received a degree in journalism from Mercer University, a Baptist-affiliated college in Macon, Georgia, and after graduation worked for the Macon Telegraph and News. In 1929, Boone married Frances Herin. The couple had two children, Janette and James Buford Jr. In 1942, Boone left the Telegraph and News and worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a speechwriter for director J. Edgar Hoover before returning to Macon in 1946. For the next several months, Boone served as editor of the Telegraph and News. Boone moved in 1947 to Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, where he became publisher of the Tuscaloosa News. In 1951, he established Tuscaloosa Newspapers Inc. in order to lease the newspaper from its owner, the Public Welfare Foundation (PWF), a private institution based in Washington, D.C. PWF created the leasing arrangement for its newspapers in order to give communities local control. His tenure there was largely uneventful until the civil rights movement and the campaign to desegregate the University of Alabama made the town a center of controversy.
Buford Boone In 1952, Autherine Lucy applied to the university as a graduate student, but according to the state laws at the time could not be admitted because she was African American. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took up her case, and in July 1955 secured a ruling that the university could not deny Lucy’s admission because of her race. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling in October, and Lucy enrolled in February 1956. On her third day of classes, a hostile mob of more than 1,000 individuals assembled to prevent her from attending classes. The likelihood of violence prompted UA’s board of trustees to suspend Lucy, stating that it was for her own safety. Throughout the months leading to Lucy’s admission, the Tuscaloosa News had been largely silent on the issue, but the actions of the mob and the cowardly response from the university officials prompted Boone to make a stand on the issue. On February 7, the day after Lucy’s suspension, Boone penned an editorial titled “What a Price for Peace,” in which he was highly critical of the university’s actions and urged compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision. The editorial ran in a black-bordered box on the first page of the newspaper. In January 1957, Boone made a speech before the West Alabama White Citizens’ Council and urged its members to stop encouraging violence in the city and accept integration. He was alarmed that the authority of the Supreme Court could apparently be ignored and was appalled that the university could so easily bend to mob rule.
Boone was one of only a handful of white newspaper leaders in the South to take a moderate stance on civil rights, advocating a calm, level-headed acceptance of desegregation. His editorial garnered widespread publicity, most of it negative, and angry letters to the paper poured in, as did threatening phone calls to Boone’s residence. Boone was criticized by many for being an “integrationist,” although his position was actually moderate. Rumors spread throughout Tuscaloosa that the newspaper was owned by African Americans in New York and that Boone was their pawn.
In May 1957, Boone was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for “What a Price for Peace.” Boone made light of the award, refusing to be profiled by Time magazine because of the unwanted publicity it would trigger in Tuscaloosa. Shortly after the award, Boone received a congratulatory letter from Martin Luther King Jr.
Boone Family, Five Generations After the failed attempt to integrate the university, Boone continued to be a voice of moderation in Tuscaloosa. He frequently railed against the Ku Klux Klan in print and tried to prevent the organization from taking root in the city. A large Klan chapter eventually did form in Tuscaloosa, and Boone’s highly critical editorials triggered a libel lawsuit against him from 1964 to 1968, which resulted in Boone’s being fined $500. The editor remained undeterred. He continued to urge Alabamians to accept the inevitability of integration. He met regularly with business leaders, editors, and UA football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant to discuss how the university could avoid the kind of trouble that accompanied James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi. He was also frequently critical of Gov. George Wallace’s defiance of federal authority, which Boone felt created a climate of lawlessness in the state.
In 1968, Boone’s son James Jr. purchased a controlling interest in Tuscaloosa Newspapers Inc. and took over as publisher and president. Buford Boone continued as chairman of the board of the newspaper until he retired in 1974. The elder Boone died on February 7, 1983, 27 years to the day after “What a Price for Peace” was published. His son Jim and his family continue to own Boone Newspapers Inc., but the family is no longer involved in the Tuscaloosa News.
Roberts, Gene, and Hank Klibanoff. The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.
Reiland, Tom, et al. A Voice of Justice and Reason: Buford Boone’s Tuscaloosa News. DVD. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Center for Public Television and Radio, 2004.