By Laura Tillman/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter didn’t want to celebrate his birthday by looking back over his 90 years.
So Tuesday, Winter sat in rapt attention of his birthday gift: a symposium on the Future of Mississippi and the South at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson.
“Over all of the generations, we have all wanted pretty much same for ourselves and families, and dreamed the same dreams,” Winter said. “But it’s our human connections and willingness to help each other which will make those dreams come true in the future.”
The Democrat was governor from 1980-1984 and persuaded lawmakers to pass the Education Reform Act of 1982. Since then, he has worked as an attorney and advocate for improving education and for racial reconciliation. His birthday is Thursday.
Jesse White, former chairman of the Southern Growth Policies Board, Tougaloo College President Beverly Wade Hogan, and industrialist Jim Barksdale spoke during the symposium, which was moderated by former Clarion-Ledger executive editor Charles Overby, who is also former president and CEO of the Newseum in Washington. The event was sponsored by the Jones Walker law firm.
Though the panel looked at the future of the region overall, the discussion returned to education again and again.
“Our schools are a mirror of society, but the society of tomorrow will be a mirror of our schools today,” Hogan said.
Barksdale spoke about his success working with schools in the Delta to bring in what he called transformative educators.
White encouraged a progressive regional agenda. He spoke about the importance of supporting local entrepreneurs rather than focusing on incentive-driven development.
“The South has got to work to end the brain drain. We have got to break this oppressive social and culture conservatism that’s driven so many people away,” White said. “That’s people who felt they had to leave for better economic opportunities, people who didn’t feel comfortable here being black or gay or an ambitious woman.”
Winter spoke at the end of the symposium and reflected on the omnipresence of technology in modern lives.
“We must allow enough quiet in our own lives to meet the needs of the people sitting next to us, and hear the message of our own hearts,” he said.