/One of the greatest Mississippians’ Former Gov William Winter remembered by friends, dignitaries

One of the greatest Mississippians’ Former Gov William Winter remembered by friends, dignitaries

Winter once famously stated that “the only way out of poverty is through the schoolhouse door.” He championed the Education Reform Act of 1992, which was hailed at the time as one of the most important state education legislations since Mississippi’s 1870 creation of its public education system. The act included increased school funding, teacher pay increases, a compulsory attendance law and a school accountability system. It also funded a publicly funded kindergarten. This was a significant break from the racist attitude of the state leadership toward public education. A decade ago, in response to federally mandated segregation, the majority of Mississippi voters had approved an amendment to the constitution that allowed the Legislature to dissolve the state’s public school system. Carl Rowan, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrote that “the greatest piece of civil right, national security and economic recovery legislation enacted in this year” and that it did not bear any of these labels. It was the Mississippi Legislature bill that spent $106 million to provide Mississippi children with a better education. In 2017, the former governor was struck by icy conditions and fell to his death. He had been going to his law office nearly every day in his 90s before that. After two unsuccessful gubernatorial campaigns, Winter was Mississippi’s 58th Governor from 1980 to 1984. From 1972 to 1976, he was the 25th lieutenant governor of Mississippi. From 1964 to 1968, Winter was the state treasurer. He also served as state tax collector (now defunct) from 1956 until 1964. Former Gov. William Winter said, “I believe William Winter should be considered one of the greatest Mississippians.” Ray Mabus was a legislative liaison and counsel to Winter’s staff. “His name is up there with (slain civil right leader) Medgar Evers, and (Nobel Prize winning author) William Faulkner due to the enormous impact he had.” Mabus stated that the governor demonstrated perseverance in passing Education Reform Act. Mabus said that the Legislature kept rejecting him and called a special session on the Education Reform Act right before Christmas, which he won. Winter, who was still at law school when he was elected to the state House of Representatives, served there from 1948 through 1956. Winter was a staunch supporter of public education. However, he did support segregation in the 1960s like most white Mississippi politicians. He later apologised for his stance and devoted his career to racial equality. He was elected to the National Advisory Board for Race Relations, which was established by President Bill Clinton. The University of Mississippi established the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation as a result of that effort. The organization is still a non-profit. U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson stated that Thompson was “the finest example of a Southern gentleman I know.” His mark was bringing people from different backgrounds, colors, and ethnicities together to solve problems. He was the rarest among the rare in Mississippi. I don’t know of any other white politician who comes close to his stature, Republican or Democrat. While there are many good politicians on both sides of the aisle, none compares to William Winter.” Winter was born and raised in Grenada. He is a graduate of University of Mississippi’s law school. He was an officer in the U.S. Army Infantry, Philippines during World War II. He was a major in Mississippi’s National Guard from 1957 to 1957. Winter was first appointed by the then-Gov to the post of state tax collector. J.P. Coleman. Coleman had encouraged Winter to run against Walter Sillers as a state representative. Coleman gave up on Winter’s efforts and left him in an uncertain position. As consolation, the governor appointed him as tax collector. The state tax collector was paid a portion of the state’s revenue, including the “blackmarket tax” on illegal liquor sales. In 1962, a Life Magazine article declared that Winter was second in pay to an elected official in the country after the president. On Winter’s advice, the Legislature abolished the position of tax collector. Andy Mullins, a long-time educator, said that Mabus was a “Boy of Spring”, who was part of Winter’s gubernatorial team, which advised him on conservation and education issues. Mullins and Winter shared a lifelong friendship, going to every Major League baseball park together. Mullins stated that Winter loved all things American, especially Mississippi. He also recalls when the group of their baseball players visited San Francisco to see a gay pride parade. Mullins stated that Winter appeared to be in deep concentration soon afterward. Mullins asked Winter what he thought about the parade. Winter smiled, looked up and said “Isn’t America a wonderful country?” His work and legacy transcended politics even in bitter partisan situations. Thompson stated that he was an unapologetic Democrat and earned the respect of both political parties. This rare feat allowed him to push for groundbreaking legislation, according to many of his closest friends. When Winter’s name or legacy comes up at the Mississippi State Capitol today, both Republicans and Democrats on the House-Senate floors give long standing ovations. “Governor Winter represents to me a person who cares more about Mississippi than what he thinks is best for him as politician,” said Robert Johnson, D.Natchez, the current House Democratic leader. He was always committed to Mississippi, no matter what the circumstances. He is an inspiration and a role model.” Former Republican governor. Haley Barbour described Winter as a friend, “a gentleman honorable and gracious,” Barbour stated. “He made significant changes in Mississippi’s K-12 education system… He and Mrs. Winter, whom is a delightful and gracious lady, represented our State very well both while he was elected and afterwards.” Barbour, who worked at the time for the state GOP, recalls a flight to Memphis in late 1970s where Winter asked him to be seated beside him. Barbour stated that he was meeting with an Arkansas political consultant to discuss whether he should run as governor. I told him that he should run because it was a good time after (former Gov.). Cliff Finch. He won. We laughed a lot over the years I had encouraged him to run. He was elected as a Democrat. Part of the joke was that he was a twenty-something year old telling the man about to become governor that ‘I think that you should run for governor. In 1984, Winter made his last attempt at Mississippi politics when he lost to incumbent U.S. Senator Thad Cochran. He has continued to be active in Jackson as a lawyer and an ambassador for the state. Mullins recalls campaigning alongside Winter in 1984 for the Senate seat and stopping by a southeast Mississippi pharmacy. He said that he wouldn’t support Winter because he failed to help his child attend medical school while he was governor. “Gov. Winter responded, “That’s not how I operate,” to which the pharmacist replied that it was. Mullins added that he had indeed operated that way. “As Gov. As Winter was about to walk out, he glanced at me and said, “Put him down because he is doubtful.” As a champion of public education and racial reconciliation, Winter was honoured with many awards throughout his life. Winter was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award of the National Education Association. He also received the National Civil Rights Museum Award. In 2003, the University of Mississippi named the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation in his honor. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History also named its building after him that same year. The Museum of Mississippi History was built by Winter, which is the first civil rights museum to be publicly funded in America. This was one of Winter’s most significant achievements in Mississippi. He was able to bring both sides of the political spectrum to the table and helped secure public and private funding for the project. Katie Blount (director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History) said that these museums are at the intersection of William Winter’s greatest passions — education, history, and racial justice. “Generations will visit here to see the stories that have shaped our nation and state.” Barbour stated that the effort to build a civil right museum in Mississippi hit a political stalemate when some wanted it to be built in downtown Jackson, while others wanted it to be built at Tougaloo College. Barbour stated, “It tripped up.” “But Gov. Winter and Justice Reuben Anderson (former state Supreme Court), came to me and suggested that we place the Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History side-by-side by the state Capitol. This was the winning proposal. This plan was the best for maximum impact and the highest visitor count. Anderson and Winter went out and did just as much work as I did. I truly believe that it would have been possible without Gov. We couldn’t have got it over the line without Winter and Judge Anderson.” Anderson, who was a close friend of Winter, spoke of Anderson’s role in helping to preserve and showcase the state’s African American history, even before the construction of the civil rights museum. Anderson stated that Anderson encouraged the Department of Archives and History to increase its focus on African American History in Mississippi. The department acquired significant papers collections, mounted award-winning exhibits and offered grants for preservation of sites related to African American history. Anderson said that Myrlie Evers’ close friendship with Anderson led to the donation of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers collection to MDAH in 2002. Other Mississippi governors also offered condolences. “We are deeply sorry for the loss of former Gov. William Winter,” current Gov. Tate Reeves said. He loved his country and this state deeply. The people of Mississippi loved him back. We will all miss him.” “Gov. Former Gov. Phil Bryant said. “Even though we were from different political parties, he was my dear friend for many decades. We were united by our common goal to make Mississippi a better state. All who knew him will remember his contributions to public education, racial reconciliation, and many other things. Gov. Our admiration and respect for Winter is unwavering. I will always be grateful to have known this extraordinary man.” Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove said. Ronnie Musgrove said, “From a call to kindergartens, more support of our public schools, and a change in our flag, his voice was for an improved Mississippi for all.” “We have lost a true stateman.” Make a regular donation to support this work today as we celebrate our Spring Member Drive. This will allow us to continue important work such as this story. 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