Opening speakers set tone for conference
by Courtney Warren
Mar 19, 2014 | 2730 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Following open remarks at the Winning the Race conference Tuesday, a panel answered questions from the audience. On the panel was DSU President Bill LaForge, former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, Civil Rights authority John Dittmer, and planning chairs Georgene Clark and Paulette Meikle.
Following open remarks at the Winning the Race conference Tuesday, a panel answered questions from the audience. On the panel was DSU President Bill LaForge, former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, Civil Rights authority John Dittmer, and planning chairs Georgene Clark and Paulette Meikle.
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The Bologna Performing Arts auditorium filled quickly as Bolivar County residents and Delta State University students prepared to listen to both Gov. William Winter and John Dittmer give the keynote address for the Winning the Race: A Conference on Diversity and Community.

The inaugural Winning the Race conference focuses on the DSU family and offers a wide selection of topics ranging from music and media to Civil Rights and religion.

The three major focuses for the conference are engage, promote and rekindle in regards to greater equality and forward and open thinking.

The opening session began on Tuesday night with Dittmer, an award-winning author, professor emeritus of history at DePauw University and a national recognized authority on the Civil Rights movement.

Upon taking the stage Dittmer said, “It is an honor to share the stage with the best governor the state of Mississippi has ever had.”

Dittmer set the scene of Mississippi during the 1950s and led listeners through the horrors of the Civil Rights Movement and segregation.

Dittmer explained the Council of Federated Organizations brought college students to the south to train teachers as well as to help register black individuals to vote.

These students brought attention to the area and many of them attended Ivy League schools.

While paranoia flew throughout the south about what the newcomers meant and the terror that the African-American race had, the volunteers continued their work, facing ridicule and even death to fight for equality.

Dittmer said after the movement “a degree of civility had come to the Magnolia State,” and there was substantial reduction in the use of terror to control segregation.

Through his speech, LaForge explained Dittmer had set a historical foundation for the conference and had taken listeners on a trip through Mississippi history.

Following a performance by Tricia Walker, director of the Delta Music Institute, who presented three songs about the history of the civil rights movement and her southern heritage, Winter took the stage.

Winter served Mississippi in numerous political capacities, including governor from 1980-1984.

According to a press release by DSU, “his dedication to racial equality and the establishment of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi has brought him international renown.”

In June 1997 Winter was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a member of the National Advisory Board on Race Relations and Winter said by being on this board and visiting 26 different states he learned certain things everyone agreed on no matter where he went. Those things were the desire for the best education, a fair shot at a decent job, a decent house, decent healthcare, and to be treated with dignity and respect.

“We need to concern ourselves with what we can do to make a better quality of life for others. It’s not just about race anymore, it’s about the greatest discriminatory factor of all in our society and that is discrimination that comes from people having, on one hand a good education and on the other hand a not so good education. That is the line now that we have to eliminate,” said Winter.

“In my lifetime, which now stands over nine decades, I find myself reflecting on how fortunate I have been to have lived through the most exciting, challenging, and possibly the most dangerous period in recorded history. After thousands of years of living in relative isolation we are now living in a world where we can be in instantaneous contact with our fellow human beings in the remotest part of the earth; there is no place to hide even if we wanted to, from the realities of our existence on this planet,” said Winter.

“Having seen over those years the incredible changes in race relations that have taken place in my native state of Mississippi, it is not totally idealist or unrealistic to believe we can achieve some of the progress in challenging the other elements that diminish our ability to live together.

“This is not suggest that any of us must relinquish our laws, cultural, spiritual, or political beliefs, but it must involved a willingness to accord respect to those who hold different ideas or who come from different backgrounds and experiences. In other words, we must strive to achieve a society where all can feel they are valued and included,” he said.

“A society or a community built of different and diverse individuals can actually be so more valuable by combining and harmonizing its different elements. The acceleration and perfecting of that advancement must now be the task for all of us,” he added.

“The time has come, here on the campus of Delta State University, today, and tomorrow for us to join together and embrace the full measure of our coming existence and the recognition and appreciation of our common humanity.”

The conference ended with the panel members, which included Georgene Clark and Paulette Meikle who are both chairs on the planning committee for the conference, answering questions from the audience.

One of the questions asked of Winter was whether or not he was worried about Mississippi’s image.

Winter said that the image many have of Mississippi is unfair because of how far we have come and he added, “We must continue to be ambassadors for the state. We are doing better (than other states) because we live close together and know each other.”

Another questions asked was what can the Delta State students do immediately to better race relations on campus.

Dittmer replied, “Get out of your comfort zone.”

Clark said, “Get involved and speak up.”

Meikle said, “Have respect for yourself and others.”

Winter said, “Don’t hesitate to speak frankly to each other. Don’t be afraid of each other and talk to one another more.”

The conference started continued today with Congressman Bennie Thompson featured during a plenary session at 8:30 a.m.

The public is invited to variety of sessions today at Delta State and a lineup may be found at www.deltastate.edu.