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The Daily Tar Heel

Former governors give audience an education

The event Wednesday night honored former Mississippi Gov. William Winter — renowned for his work in racial reconciliation and education — with the screening of “The Toughest Job: William Winter’s Mississippi.”

Jesse White, adjunct professor at the UNC School of Government, framed the documentary’s events in the context of the civil rights movement.

“To students, this may seem like the Paleolithic Age,” he said.

As the night continued, attendees like UNC senior Rebeka Johnson said she saw the film’s present value.

Winter’s story is one of perseverance, enduring racially charged politics and two lost gubernatorial races before taking office as governor in 1980.

The film depicts Winter’s fight for universal access to quality education and racial equality in the only state that then lacked compulsory education.

After the film, Winter and former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt sat down to discuss their takeaways from decades in education policy.

They called upon students to become engaged in the political world to make an institutional difference.

“I hope you will not give up on our generation,” Winter said. “I hope you say, we’re going to straighten up all the problems made by (my) generation.”

Hunt challenged students not to fear the messiness of politics.

“Let me tell you one thing, folks: It’s a tough game,” he said. “Are you willing to let education — public education — go down the drain? ... I’m going to fight.”

Both governors spoke to what they described to be a resegregation of the public school system.

One school in Jackson, Miss., Winter said, is 98 percent African-American.

“We live in a desegregated world, (but) we’re still educating our kids in a segregated world,” he said.

Hunt drew attention to the potential N.C. private school vouchers having a divisive effect on public schools.

But Michael Jones, a UNC law student, said the governors’ emphasis on democracy inspired an end to the resegregation of schools.

“We always have the power to change that, and that power comes from the conversations that we can have,” he said.

Winter said an understanding of the issue can be this generation’s first step to improving the education system and the state.

“It’s a matter of awareness on the parts of us that we cannot just live our individual lives,” he said.


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