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William F. Winter and the New Mississippi

A Biography

Charles C. Bolton

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-11

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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. ...

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1. Grenada Farm

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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 ...

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2. College and Campaigning

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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. ...

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3. World War II

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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, south-ern agriculture, already reshaped by New Deal farm policies, experienced further strains, as black and white workers abandoned the countryside ...

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4. Moderate in the Land of the Dixiecrats

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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...

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5. Massive Resistance

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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 OleMiss, 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 ...

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6. State Politics and Civil Rights

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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 maintain-ing racial segregation. As William Winter and his colleagues attended to end-of-session duties, word arrived that the state tax collector, Nellah Bai-ley, had died suddenly. Mrs. Thomas L. Bailey, as she was more generally ...

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7. The 1967 Governor’s Race

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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, ...

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8. Right Man, Wrong Job

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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 reluc-tant New Mississippi. He did not know what his next move would be ...

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9. A Tale of Two Campaigns

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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 politi-...

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10. Governor William Winter: A New Image for Mississippi

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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 ...

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11. Education Reform: The Christmas Miracle

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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. ...

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12. Post-Governor Blues

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pp. 232-247

The Christmas Miracle of 1982 not only boosted William Winter’s pop-ularity 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 gov-...

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13. Fighting for the New Mississippi

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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 atten-tion to other matters. Harvard University’s Institute of Politics named him one of its six fellows for the spring 1985 semester. Winter taught a ...

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pp. 269-279

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 Peo-ple. In Winter’s address, he praised Mason and his fellow protestors as ...

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pp. 280-283

William F. Winter provided crucial help in the creation of this book. For one thing, he has preserved an extraordinary documentary record of his life and career, a fact perhaps attributable to his training as a historian and his well-deserved reputation as a man of honesty and integrity. When I began this project, many of his papers had already been sent to the ...


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pp. 284-333

List of Oral History Interviews

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pp. 334-337


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pp. 338-348

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pp. 349-364

Morrison Heights, Grenada, Mississippi, 2008. William H. Winter, great-grandfather of William F. Winter, purchased this house in the 1850s so that his children could receive an education in town, since no schools existed near his plantation more than ten miles William Winter playing with the livestock on the Winter farm, late 1920s. Courtesy of William Winter in the Philippines, 1946. In connection with his military duties, Winter ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781621039488
E-ISBN-10: 162103948X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781617037870

Page Count: 368
Publication Year: 2013