Former Governor William Winter celebrated his 93rd birthday yesterday. One would be hard pressed to name another governor, of any state not just Mississippi, who has advocated and acted for historic preservation as strongly as Governor Winter. In 1954, as a young Grenada County Representative, he introducted a bill directing the State Building Commission to “repair, restore, and renovate the Old Capitol building” in conjunction with constructing a new Health Department building in near the Medical Center. The bill failed but was the first step towards the creation of the Old Capitol Museum. He subsequently served fifty years as president of the MDAH Board of Trustees, from the 1950s to the 2000s. During that time, Mississippi historic preservationists have always known “that when push came to shove, Governor Winter was going to come down on the side of preserving the state’s history.” Dedicated in 2003 in honor of that legacy, the headquarters of the MDAH is appropriately the William F. Winter Archives & History Building.
While I (and any number of other historic preservationists) could talk about Governor Winter, it is best to let him speak about history and historic preservation. These quotations are from The Measure of Our Days: Writings of William F. Winter edited by Andrew P. Mullins, Jr. and published by the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi and University Press of Mississippi in 2006. Covering broad societal subjects such as civic responsibility and justice as well as personal subjects such as family and religion, the book should be required reading for all of Mississippi’s public officials and citizens.
“We are seeing a greatly increased awareness of historic preservation – of the importance of saving the unique and irreplaceable reminders of our heritage. Local and regional planning agencies are now taking note of the desirability of maintaining the individuality of our communities and not letting them become plastic look-alikes. We cannot let all of our nineteenth- and twentieth-century buildings, so many of which are physically sound and architecturally significant, be swallowed up by plastic pizza parlors and glittery motels.”
– “The Mississippi Legacy,” chapter in Mississippi 1990, published by University Press of Mississippi, 1979.
“History must reflect our bad times as well as our good ones, our mistakes as well as our successes, our defeats as well as our victories. It is only through a clear and honest look at our past that we are able to find the basis now and in the future to make wise judgements that will keep us from repeating the mistakes of that past. We must in short learn to be instructed by history but not imprisoned by it…
“This is what we must demand our best efforts – to call all of our people to an increased awareness of the duties of citizenship and to use our sense of history to build a fairer, a more just, and a more stable society.”
– Speech, dedication of the William F. Winter Archives & History Building, Jackson, Mississippi, November 7, 2003.
“Not only is it good sense to preserve these buildings as physical reminders of our culture but also it is in many instances plain good business to do so. The restoration of a well-built structure is in most instances more economical than building one from scratch. The result is both architectural beauty and sound business practice. Private citizens and public officials alike can render a great service… by being aware of buildings that ought to be preserved and supporting efforts to do so.”
– Television commentary, WJTV, Jackson, Mississippi, 1985.
“We are all a part of a link in a continuous chain of people and events that neither begins nor ends with us but that forms an unbroken connection between all that has gone before and all that will happen in the future… Without that understanding that only an appreciation of history can give us, we have a lot of trouble picking through the uncertainties that these changing times bring. That is why it is important that we come together… to shore up and support the institutions that are committed to sustaining and defining that history.”
– Speech, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama, March 14, 2002.