Jobe Auditorium at Delta State University was packed Tuesday with students, faculty, staff, and members of the community for the first speaker of DSU President Bill Laforge's new Colloquia program, an ongoing series of prominent speakers.
"He's a legend in government, politics and law," said Laforge.
"He is a leader who has champed in fairness, justice and equality for all Mississippians. He has been a great friend to Mississippi, to the Delta, to this university, and to me personally. He is a true Mississippi hero," said Laforge.
Winter, 90, who was governor from 1980-84, was welcomed with a standing ovation before he could speak.
"I must take 10 seconds to tell you how much I appreciate the friendship of your distinguished president. He has been my friend for so many years, worked tirelessly and sometimes fruitlessly, in trying to help get me elected governor a long time ago. And as I remember we never did draw a crowd like this at any of my campaign rallies," said Winter.
With a positive tone throughout his speech, Winter discussed the beauty and importance of the Delta.
He explained that due to the forward thinking at Delta State, the university has helped progress Mississippi society.
"I think it is fair to say that few places in the south and in this country have seen as much social and economic change as we have in Mississippi, and specifically in this unique region of Mississippi," said Winter.
Winter's two main topics of the evening were the important of public education and racial reconciliation.
Winter expressed his feelings that DSU has an inescapable duty to lead and the two most transforming developments in his lifetime were the elimination of the Jim Crowe laws and the development of a true public education system.
"We can all take pride and reassurance in how much progress we have made. But lest we be inclined to rest on our laurels, let me remind you of how far we still have to go," said Winter.
Winter then began to give the good side of Mississippi education.
He said Mississippi has some of the best public schools and respected state universities, such as Delta State, in the country.
He also mentioned there has been an establishment of a new application of technical and intellectual attainment that did not previously exist.
Winter then delivered the bad news.
"The task that confronts us is a more difficult one that we have ever known before," said Winter.
That task is furthering Mississippi public education.
While Winter did admit that it was difficult due to poverty levels and low graduation rates, he said he strongly believes "the only road out of poverty runs by the school house."
Winter said Mississippi has a great need for a comprehensive state funded prekindergarten program.
"It is in the first five years of life that the initial, critical, physical and intellectual development of the brain takes place," said Winter.
Winter said Mississippi would continue to have a high drop out rate unless the state seriously addresses this phase in the education system.
"We must finance our present system at an increased level in view of the fact that we are already spending less per pupil than any state but one," said Winter.
"We are a much richer state than we have ever been. Don't tell me that we can't afford to invest a little more in the education of our people. We have demonstrated that we can do whatever we set our minds to do," said Winter.
On racial reconciliation, Winter said despite the progress we have made in the last few decades, the issue of race still remains one of the most difficult problems and it is because we still have "not come to terms with the deep seeded feelings from our backgrounds."
Winter said if we do not come together to eliminate this issue, then our country won't be a good one for our children to live in.
"Our society is rapidly becoming more diverse," said Winter.
Winter said he believes that "how far we believe we've come depends on where we stand," and that we should provide an opportunity for every person to an equal education.
Winter said we must work together and that no one should use any kind of racial excuse to not go to school or not act responsible.
"Nothing is so self-defeating as falling into the trap of playing the victims role. All of this is a matter of pride and being honest with ourselves and with each other," said Winter.
“There must come a time in the lives of all of us where we must recognize that we are all in this together,” he said.
Winter left listeners with the idea that the university "can be and must be a flagship institution in addressing this vital issue of racial reconciliation."
Laforge awarded Winter with the first Delta State University Colloquial medal, which will be given to each Colloquial speaker.