William F. Winter and the New Mississippi: A Biography

By Eskew, Glenn T. | The Journal of Southern History, February 2017 | Go to article overview

William F. Winter and the New Mississippi: A Biography


Eskew, Glenn T., The Journal of Southern History


William F. Winter and the New Mississippi: A Biography. By Charles C. Bolton. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013. Pp. viii, 338. $35.00, ISBN 978-1-61703-787-0.)

Civil rights historiography has taken several turns since the publication of the initial scholarly accounts of the movement, and Charles C. Bolton's excellent biography of Mississippi governor William F. Winter reflects yet another approach to understanding that turbulent period in American history. Here one finds the struggle of the white southern moderate who, although tangential to the fight on the front lines for race reform, nevertheless played a crucial role in the saga of the long civil rights movement.

Born into a prominent political family from Grenada County in 1923, William Forrest Winter attended the University of Mississippi, earning a bachelor's degree in 1943 and law degree in 1949. Named in honor of the Confederate general with whom his grandfather rode, and elected to the state legislature in 1947, just prior to the Dixiecrat revolt, Winter seemed one to man the barricades in defense of white supremacy. Yet this descendant of Mississippi Whigs, Unionists, and Reconstruction Republicans received from his parents a heavy dose of paternalism, Christian fairness, and New Deal liberalism. Such inherited ideals and the awakening of academic freedom he experienced under the mentorship of history professor James W. Silver at Ole Miss, where Winter defended Hodding Carter's right to speak, nurtured an open-mindedness and honesty that marked his years of public service.

Bolton finds Winter's lukewarm support for white supremacy "more a function of political survival than heartfelt belief," for during the rise of massive resistance, the freedom rides, and Freedom Summer, Winter honed a reasoned approach as a racial moderate that kept him viable in hidebound Mississippi (p. 74). As a staffer under U.S. senator John C. Stennis, Winter learned the art of political survival. When friends encouraged Winter to join the White Citizens' Council, he demurred, and he avoided the fray of racist campaigns by accepting a political appointment as Mississippi tax collector. Winter held the profitable job from 1956 to 1964, all the while advocating its abolition, something he accomplished by combining its tasks with those of the state tax commission. Winter was then elected state treasurer, holding the new position until 1968. Yet the plum he desired for the longest time hung out of reach. Winter ran his first campaign for governor using the playbook of Mississippi congressman Frank E. …

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