William F. Winter, alumnus (BA history and political science ’43, JD law ’49) and editor of the Mississippi Law Journal; army infantry officer; former representative, treasurer, lieutenant governor, and governor of Mississippi; and lifelong champion of all Mississippians, received the prestigious Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis last October.
Winter was one of seven recipients in 2016: Swin Cash, WNBA champion and activist; Benjamin Crump, civil rights attorney; Tawakkol Karman, Yemeni human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; The Honorable Damon Jerome Keith, longest serving judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Court; Soledad O’Brien, journalist and executive producer; and Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative.
Winter is known for his role in leading the charge for publicly funded primary education while he was the 58th governor of Mississippi from 1980 to 1984. He governed under a belief that all people, regardless of race or class, hold the same rights and privileges.
President Clinton called Winter a “great champion of civil rights,” and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam, who covered the civil rights movement for the New York Times, considered Winter his favorite politician and personal hero.
“William Winter is a Mississippi treasure,” said Jesse L. White Jr. (BA history and political science ’66), an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who ran Winter’s successful gubernatorial bid in 1979. “He’s been a mentor to me and to countless others, showing us the true meaning of service through his selfless leadership.”
The Freedom Award came with a $10,000 honorarium, which Winter contributed to the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at UM as part of a matching campaign that raised more than $60,000 for the Institute.
Created by the National Civil Rights Museum for the Freedom Award ceremony, the video reveals Governor Winter’s lifelong commitment to Mississippians, at times in the face of life-threatening opposition.