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Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter dies at 97

Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter dies at 97
© Greg Nash

Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter (D), known for pushing to improve public education and U.S. race relations, died Friday evening, his family announced. He was 97. 

Family spokesman Dick Molpus, Mississippi’s former Democratic secretary of state who also worked on Winter’s gubernatorial staff, said in a statement that Winter died at his home Friday, The Associated Press reported. 

The statement did not mention a cause of death. 

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Winter served as governor from 1980 to 1984 and helped Mississippi lawmakers pass the Education Reform Act of 1982, which aimed to set quality schooling standards and access to public early education in the state. 

"Known as Mississippi's Education Governor, Winter secured passage of landmark educational initiatives in 1982 bringing kindergartens, compulsory school attendance, and a range of other key reforms to a state plagued by poverty and illiteracy," Molpus said in his statement, according to CNN

In the 1990s, Winter served as co-chairman of a national commission on racial reconciliation created by former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonTrumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats The Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster Mellman: White working-class politics MORE

Winter’s career was chronicled in the Emmy award-winning documentary film, “The Toughest Job: William Winter’s Mississippi.” 

“I think the combination of personal strength and political openness that he has shown all his life is the key toward making this crazy century we’re living in, with all these moving parts, hold together and make some sense,” Clinton said in the 2015 film. 

In 2000 and 2001, Winter headed a Mississippi state commission that recommended removing the Confederate battle emblem from the state’s flag, a move that voters rejected in a 2001 statewide election. 

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However, legislators decided to remove the emblem this year under pressure from business and religious groups amid nationwide protests against racial injustice. 

Winter issued a statement praising the move at the time, according to the AP, but added, “The battle for a better Mississippi does not end with the removal of the flag.” 

In 2008, Winter received the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award, one of the most prestigious honors given to elected officials and public servants. 

Several Mississippi elected officials expressed condolences and messages of praise toward Winter following the news of his passing Saturday, including current Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) and Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March 11 GOP senators slam Biden pick for health secretary: 'No meaningful experience' MORE (R) who wrote that the state “has lost a giant.” 

Mississippi Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonLawmakers line up behind potential cyber breach notification legislation NAACP president accuses Trump of having operated under 'white supremacist doctrine' Lawmakers blame SolarWinds hack on 'collective failure' to prioritize cybersecurity MORE (D) tweeted, “Mississippi has lost one of its greatest ambassadors. His work on earth speaks for itself. Rest in peace.”