The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation’s mission is to end all discrimination based on difference. The Institute grew out of One America in the 21st Century, known as the President’s Advisory Board on Race, an initiative created by President Bill Clinton in 1997. Among President Clinton’s seven appointees to the One America advisory board was the Honorable William F. Winter, Mississippi’s governor from 1980-1984, and a champion of racial and educational equity. Governor Winter’s involvement in the national initiative brought the first-ever Deep-South dialogue about racial reconciliation to the University of Mississippi, in Oxford – a noteworthy feat considering the institution’s history of race relations.
Hailed as the single most successful event of the entire Initiative by President Clinton, the event encouraged the University of Mississippi to formalize its dialogue process with the creation of an institute to promote racial reconciliation and civic renewal.
Formally created in 1999, the William Winter Institute was named in honor of Gov. Winter.
Standing on the principle that local people know their own communities best, the William Winter Institute began its work responding to people throughout the state calling for support or facilitation in their towns and counties. Calls came from communities deeply impacted by the traumas of the civil rights era, including Neshoba County, site of the Freedom Summer murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in 1964; McComb, which was known as the “Bombing Capital of the World” in 1964, with a deep history of civil rights organizing and white resistance to it; and east Tallahatchie County, where Emmett Till’s killers were unjustly acquitted by an all-white jury in 1955.
Out of this early community work, which used personal story-sharing as a means to both truth-telling and bridge-building, grew an approach eventually called The Welcome Table. This remains the basis for the William Winter Institute’s Community Building work.
In 2009, after several years of growing student participation at the Institute, interns and supporters helped develop an intensive residential program for Mississippi high school students, which became known as the Summer Youth Institute (SYI). This youth component grew into Youth Engagement, a vital part of the Institute’s work.
The William Winter Institute added Policy and Academic Services pillars in 2014. Policy was launched through the website, Rethink Mississippi. Academic Services focused on working with colleges and universities – especially University of Mississippi students, faculty, staff, and administration – as well as professional organizations and other groups seeking anti-bias training.
In April 2018, the William Winter Institute left the umbrella of the University of Mississippi to become an independent nonprofit organization, with headquarters in Jackson, Miss. In 2019, the Institute received its 501(c)(3) certification.
Governor William F. Winter passed away in December 2020, at age 97, leaving a legacy of significant advancements toward education equity and racial reconciliation. We are honored to continue to carry this legacy through work that extends beyond Mississippi’s borders throughout the region, the nation, and beyond.