William WinterFebruary 1923 -
A native of Grenada Mississippi, William Winter graduated from the University of Mississippi and the University of Mississippi Law School, where he was the editor of the law review. While still in law school, he was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1943. During World War II, he was the number one graduate of the Infantry Officers’ School at Fort Benning. He later served in a training regiment for African American Soldiers.
After the war was over, Winter was re-elected to the House of Representatives in 1951 and 1955. In 1956, he was appointed State Tax Collector by Governor J.P. Coleman and amazingly worked to eliminate that office. He was also State Treasurer and a long-time trustee for the Department of Archives and History. In 1967 he ran but was defeated for the Democratic nomination for governor. He was elected lieutenant governor from 1972-1976. He was defeated for governor in 1975, but in 1979 defeated Evelyn Gandy and Gil Carmichael to gain the governor’s office, serving from 1980-1984. He later lost his bid for the United States Senate.
Although he first ran as a segregationist, he was even then a racial moderate. Over time he increasingly became a champion for racial reconciliation. Most significantly, while serving as governor, he was able to overcome fierce opposition to pass the Mississippi Education Reform Act, an important improvement in
the state’s educational system. Among other things, it established public kindergartens.
Governor Winter has fought vigorously for racial equality over the years. In 1997-1998, he was named a member of President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race. The University of Mississippi established the Institute for Racial Reconciliation in his name, and in 2008, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum awarded him its prestigious Profiles in Courage Award for his lifetime of work in education and racial reconciliation.
William Winter has been a beacon of hope in a state, which, for too long, was a bastion of racism. His life of service has helped combat discrimination and has brought education to a poor state. As he phrased it: “Poorly educated people translate into poor people. Education is the one thing that will break the cycle of poverty. It is the one thing that will unlock the door of economic opportunity.”
Charles C. Bolton. William F. Winter and the New Mississippi. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013.