Skip to Main Content
William F. Winter and the New Mississippi

William F. Winter and the New Mississippi: A Biography

Charles C. Bolton
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 368
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    William F. Winter and the New Mississippi
    Book Description:

    For more than six decades, William F. Winter (b. 1923) has been one of the most recognizable public figures in Mississippi. His political career spanned the 1940s through the early 1980s, from his initial foray into Mississippi politics as James Eastland's driver during his 1942 campaign for the United States Senate, as state legislator, as state tax collector, as state treasurer, and as lieutenant governor. Winter served as governor of the state of Mississippi from 1980 to 1984.

    A voice of reason and compromise during the tumultuous civil rights battles, Winter represented the earliest embodiment of the white moderate politicians who emerged throughout the "New South." His leadership played a pivotal role in ushering in the New Mississippi: a society that moved beyond the racial caste system that had defined life in the state for almost a century after emancipation. In many ways, Winter's story over nine decades is also the story of the evolution of Mississippi in the second half of the twentieth century.

    Winter has remained active in public life since retiring from politics following an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign against Thad Cochran in 1984. During the last twenty-five years, Winter has worked with a variety of organizations to champion issues that have always been central to his vision of how to advance the interests of his native state and the South as a whole. Improving the economy, upgrading the educational system, and facilitating racial reconciliation are goals he has pursued with passion. The first biography of this pivotal figure, William F. Winter and the New Mississippi traces his life and influences from boyhood days in Grenada County, through his service in World War II, and through his long career serving Mississippi.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-948-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-1)
  3. [Map]
    (pp. 2-2)
    (pp. 3-10)

    On Monday, September 12, 1966, black children in Grenada, Mississippi, attempted to integrate the local public schools and a riot erupted. In the worst instance of racial violence associated with school desegregation attempts in Mississippi, a white mob assaulted black schoolchildren and white reporters while local law enforcement looked the other way. Racial confrontation had simmered in Grenada for months before this incident. During the summer of 1966, local black activists had launched a broad-based boycott against Grenada merchants who had failed to abide by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and end racial segregation in places of public accommodation;...

    (pp. 11-30)

    In the winter of 1932, William F. Winter, just shy of his ninth birthday, boarded a train in Grenada, bound for the state capital. Earlier that day, Winter had left his family’s farm in an isolated section of Grenada County, located in north-central Mississippi, east of the Delta. Winter travelled to Jackson to visit his father, Aylmer Winter, a member of the Mississippi State Senate. During his visit, Winter sat with his father at his Senate desk and listened to the legislative debates, many of which revolved around how the state would respond to the Great Depression that had left...

    (pp. 31-41)

    William Winter graduated from Grenada High School in the spring of 1940, and shortly thereafter, he won an oratorical contest sponsored by the state American Legion. As a result, the organization chose Winter to give a speech at a patriotic meeting organized for early September in Greenville. Winter’s speech at the program praised President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “a great leader,” who “is guiding our feet along the way to a still more perfect freedom.” He urged Americans to avoid complacency about the dangers posed by the war in Europe, noting that “the indifference of the American people is the...

    (pp. 42-61)

    World War II transformed the South. New war industries and military camps boosted an impoverished economy and brought American soldiers from all over the country into the region to train. At the same time, southern agriculture, already reshaped by New Deal farm policies, experienced further strains, as black and white workers abandoned the countryside for the military or to search for war jobs. Black military service and the United States’ rhetoric against the racist Nazi regime encouraged black Americans to question more stridently the South’s system of racial segregation and black disfranchisement. Military service exposed Southerners, both black and white,...

    (pp. 62-82)

    In the summer of 1947, William Winter and fifteen other Ole Miss students won election to the state legislature. Most had served in the military during World War II before entering Ole Miss, either as new or returning students. These young legislators hoped to make their mark in Jackson by enacting legislation that would help move Mississippi forward in the postwar period. Many of them had moderate views on racial matters and thought that some limited reforms to the state’s system of racial segregation and black disfranchisement might be possible. By the time the new legislature assembled in January 1948,...

    (pp. 83-103)

    In the fall of 1953, William Winter was halfway through a second term as a Mississippi state legislator. He also had a struggling law practice in Grenada, managed the Grenada County farm, taught as an adjunct for Ole Miss, and held a part-time job with the Grenada Chamber of Commerce. As part of Winter’s Chamber duties, he helped organize Grenada County’s second annual Harvest Festival, the town’s first racially integrated community event. Weeks earlier, black citizens in Grenada had started their own Chamber of Commerce organization. Winter suggested that a representative from this new black Chamber join the Harvest Festival...

    (pp. 104-126)

    On Saturday, March 31, 1956, the Mississippi House was in the last week of its session, one that had focused considerable attention on maintaining racial segregation. As William Winter and his colleagues attended to end-of-session duties, word arrived that the state tax collector, Nellah Bailey, had died suddenly. Mrs. Thomas L. Bailey, as she was more generally known, was the widow of Thomas L. Bailey, Mississippi’s governor from 1944 to 1946, who died in office. The first woman to win statewide office, she had been elected three times to the post of state tax collector. The news of Mrs. Bailey’s...

  11. 7 THE 1967 GOVERNOR’S RACE
    (pp. 127-147)

    The 1967 statewide elections in Mississippi represented an uncertain moment of political transition in the state. In the first contests held after passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, almost two hundred thousand potential new black voters joined the electorate. The end of black disfranchisement promised to alter the state’s political landscape, but the pace and shape of that transformation remained unclear in 1967. For one thing, although the law changed, white attitudes about sharing political power with black citizens did not shift overnight. For William Winter, an almost twenty-year veteran of state politics with a reputation as...

    (pp. 148-168)

    After the grueling campaign of 1967, William and Elise Winter took a short vacation to upstate New York. Driving along the Hudson River in October, Winter was greatly relieved that he was no longer spending his days walking the fine line between Mississippi’s past and the reluctant New Mississippi. He did not know what his next move would be or whether he would make another run for governor. Yet in spite of the disappointments of his campaign, Winter remained confident that Mississippi would succeed in moving beyond the racial divisions that had held it back for so long. As he...

    (pp. 169-190)

    William Winter made two more campaigns for the Mississippi governor’s office in the 1970s. In 1975, he began as the clear favorite but lost because of a failure to appreciate the increasing importance of image in appealing to voters and because he could not capitalize fully on two of his most important qualities: his reputation as an honest and experienced politician and his history as a racial moderate. Winter almost abandoned politics after this defeat, but in 1979, at the eleventh hour, he decided to make another attempt to win the governor’s chair. He defeated a female candidate in the...

  14. 10 GOVERNOR WILLIAM WINTER: A New Image for Mississippi
    (pp. 191-213)

    The inaugural ceremonies for William Winter in January 1980 highlighted the intellectual and forward-looking approach the new governor brought to his office and launched an administration that would help transform the image of Mississippi in the eyes of her citizens and the rest of the nation. Winter wanted an inaugural event that would be more than “hoopla and parades.” The day before the inauguration ceremony, a symposium held at the Old Capitol—“Mississippi and the Nation in the 1980s”—featured an impressive group of accomplished Mississippians: writers Eudora Welty and Margaret Walker Alexander, businessman Doug Kenna, Catholic Bishop Bernard Law,...

  15. 11 EDUCATION REFORM: The Christmas Miracle
    (pp. 214-231)

    William Winter had long believed that Mississippi could not move forward with a second-rate public education system. He had benefited from an early childhood environment where his parents instilled reading and education as essential values for a better life. He had also broadened his horizons intellectually while an undergraduate at Ole Miss in the 1940s. Throughout his long political career, Winter had argued that better public schools and a more educated citizenry were necessary prerequisites for creating a stronger state economy. It is not surprising that education reform became the top legislative priority of the Winter administration. Huge obstacles, however,...

    (pp. 232-247)

    The Christmas Miracle of 1982 not only boosted William Winter’s popularity but also transformed the political landscape of Mississippi. The 1983 state elections demonstrated strong public support for the education reform cause, and numerous individuals with close ties to the governor were elevated to political office. As journalist Bill Minor noted, the governor succeeded in “Winterizing” state government.¹ At the same time, Winter, who was still only sixty years old in 1983, lamented the end of his four years as governor. He would have liked to have served another four years and likely could have easily won reelection, but the...

    (pp. 248-268)

    Winter’s defeat in the U.S. Senate race in 1984 left him disheartened. He felt he had essentially wasted a year on a fruitless effort, one that he had never really totally embraced. Winter, however, quickly turned his attention to other matters. Harvard University’s Institute of Politics named him one of its six fellows for the spring 1985 semester. Winter taught a seminar entitled, “The South and the Nation,” which covered topics such as “New Versus Old Politics in the South,” “Southern Growth: Blessing or Bugaboo?” “New Emphasis on Education,” and “Southern Writers: Their Impact on the Region.” As part of...

    (pp. 269-270)

    In May 2009, Winter spoke at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of Mississippi’s first civil rights protest, the wade-in on the segregated beaches of the Gulf Coast, which was led by Dr. Gilbert Mason, head of the Biloxi chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In Winter’s address, he praised Mason and his fellow protestors as heroes, courageous Mississippians who freed the entire state from a system whose values ran contrary to the ideals of the United States. Winter also noted that not many whites joined the Coast civil rights pioneers during their march into the Gulf...

    (pp. 271-274)
  20. NOTES
    (pp. 275-324)
    (pp. 325-328)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 329-339)
  23. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)