PHILADELPHIA-by Chris Davis – When former governor William Winter spoke for his last time at the Neshoba County Fair, he recalled how much progress Mississippi had made in his lifetime, then 91 years. Winter died Friday morning at 97. Winter spoke at the fair for the 26th time in 2014.
Winters speech was not only reflective, but was meant to express his support for an amendment to the Mississippi constitution, which would require the legislature to fully fund K-12 education each year. Winter had been a champion for public education during his term as the 58th governor of Mississippi, from 1980 to 1984.
“The last 60 years have made an unbelievable difference in our state,” he said. “Since I first drove up here to the fair in the summer of 1956, I have personally witnessed the incredible change for the better. We’ve come from a state that was affected with a terrible inferiority complex, that lived with a chip on its shoulder, that didn’t want to be a part of the national mainstream, that was suspicious and defiant of the federal government. It was a state looking backward and not to the future. And, we wondered why we were not respected nationally and why we were lagging economically.”
He said that for many years Mississippi put preserving its Jim Crow racial segregation system ahead of educating its citizens, and that was to the state’s detriment. Winter said he believes the murders of three Civil Rights workers in 194, in Neshoba County, may have been a turning point in the conscience and in the affairs of the state.
“It may well have been right here in Neshoba County, when the conscience of the good people of this county and the good people of this state, sparked, I might add, by the Congress and the Supreme Court, caused attitudes to change,” he said.
Though acknowledging the areas in which Mississippi is lacking, Winter praised the state for its progress.
“We’ve come further, I would argue, than any other state. But we still have a long way to go because we started so far back,” he said.
As he spoke, with his jacket off, on the last day of July, crowd soaked with sweat underneath the pavillion roof, paper fans wagging, Winter, who believed Mississippi’s most egregious sin was hanging on to racial segregation and a past that he believed held us down, exited with words of encouragement.
“We Mississippians, as we have demonstrated many times before, have, we have the economic and intellectual resources to do anything that we think is really important and want to accomplish. We’ve done that in good times and bad times. Comp[ared to the past, we are living in pretty good times. Let us make the best of them. Let us make the investments that will pay off later. Let us set aside petty differences and self-serving ambitions to find common ground and reasonable solutions to complex problems.”
Winter said we, as citizens of Mississippi, owe those who will follow us all we can give, and that “honest compromise” is the best tool in accomplishing that.
Audio- Complete audio from William Winter’s last appearance at Neshoba County Fair.