It’s hard to imagine a name more recognizable in Mississippi politics than William F. Winter. He has been a bold leader and part of — as well as witness to — many changes that have indeed helped to create the New Mississippi. Born in 1923 in Grenada, Winter’s political career spanned six decades. He served as a state legislator, state tax collector, state treasurer, lieutenant governor and governor.
Now as this senior statesman is in his 90th year, Charles C. Bolton, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has honored Winter’s accomplishments and legacy by writing his biography.
I’m old enough to remember Mississippi elected officials who did not make us proud as they fought tooth and nail to preserve “our Southern way of life.” William Winter, as his biographer describes him, was a voice of reason and compromise during the tumultuous civil rights battles, representing the earliest embodiment of the white moderate politicians who emerged throughout the New South.
On their website, Lemuria Books invites readers to share thoughts and memories of Winter. Former secretary of state and Winter staff member Dick Molpus wrote an especially interesting blog. He recalls the first time he heard Winter. It was in the sultry hot air of the Neshoba County Fair where political rhetoric was often as hot as the temperature. Only 13 years of age at the time, Molpus says Winter got a tepid smattering of applause from the crowd who weren’t accustomed to the message Winter proclaimed that “we, as citizens of the United States, have an obligation to follow the laws of our country.” That’s hardly a radical thought now, but this speech was after hours of fist pounding over states’ rights and stump speeches based on the premise that “the South will rise again.” Molpus stepped up to Winter, introduced himself and said, “I want to be on your team.”
I become aware of William Winter when he ran for governor against John Bell Williams, a U.S. Congressman. Winter lost and I was disappointed. The Williams campaign portrayed Winter as a liberal, which was tantamount to calling him Satan in Mississippi in those days. I had an occasion to talk with someone who worked on the Williams campaign, saying to him, “You know that’s not true about William Winter.” The reply was, “We know it’s not true, but that’s politics.”
As a journalist I’ve had a couple of opportunities to interview Winter and found him forthright and gracious. With this biography, now we can all say, “Thank you, Mr. Winter for a job well done.”