“We Were All Prisoners of the System”

Dr. Otis W. Pickett of Mississippi College recently published We Were All Prisoners of the System. The article dives into race relations history in Mississippi and the leadership of Governor William Winter and Dr. Susan M. Glisson.

Exclusive interviews with both Governor Winter and Dr. Susan Glisson provide insight into their world as they constructed a plan to take on some of the toughest counties in Mississippi, opened doors for future reconciliation efforts throughout the state and ultimately formed the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.

“It was Mississippi that saw the deaths of Medgar Evers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and many others who laid down their lives on the altar of freedom. Indeed, Mississippi has been a regional and national leader on racial oppression through violence for more than two centuries. Given this history, there is no other state with more opportunity to lead the nation on a path of reconciliation between its black and white citizens. Susan Glisson agrees. In a candid interview with the author, after being asked if there were any other institutions or states that have had the kind of impact on racial reconciliation as the WWIRR and the state of Mississippi, Glisson responded, ‘Without feeling like I am bragging, not that I am aware of.’

Over the last three decades Mississippi has made itself a national and international leader on racial reconciliation. Indeed, there is no other state with more organizations, institutions, conferences, programs, professionals, churches, educational opportunities, and community organizing events around issues of racial reconciliation than Mississippi. Likewise, there is no other state that has been working as actively for as long as Mississippi to formally process race and reconciliation.”

The challenges faced in Mississippi, and all groups seeking reconciliation, cannot be overcome without advocacy and partnerships between top-rank political leaders and local grassroots efforts.

“It was this marriage of top-rank political advocacy with local grassroots efforts that brought about an important discussion on race at the University of Mississippi, the university with perhaps the most difficult racial past of any university in America. Glisson said,

The whole thing started in Mississippi because of a conversation with Governor Winter and Bill Clinton. Winter showed a picture to Bill Clinton of his grandson’s school classroom in Mississippi. Half of the class was black and the other half white. Clinton said ‘that was what every classroom in America should look like.’ They started having this conversation. So it all started in Mississippi.

We are proud to share Dr. Pickett’s eloquent account of this treasured, if sometimes rocky, history.

“…in 1983 Winter invited Myrlie Evers to a luncheon at the governor’s mansion on the anniversary of the death of Medgar Evers. Winter recalled saying, ‘Mrs. Evers, we white folks owe as much to your and your husband and your colleagues in the civil rights movement as the black folks do, because you freed us, too. We were all prisoners of the system.’”

Read the full article here.

Shared with permission.



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