The film will be shown starting at 6pm at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater.
The Toughest Job: William Winter’s Mississippi, a documentary directed by Matthew Graves for the University of Mississippi’s Southern Documentary Project (SouthDocs), chronicles the life and career of Mississippi’s 57th Governor William Winter and his fight to pass the 1982 Education Reform Bill.
The Toughest Job emphasizes William Winter’s role as a leader in education reform, economic development, and racial reconciliation. Utilizing materials from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and interviews with Governor Winter, Elise Winter, Vernon Jordan, Dick Molpus, Myrlie Evers-Williams, Ray Mabus, Reuben V. Anderson, Charles Overby, President Bill Clinton, and others, the film examines the political life and policy accomplishments of one of Mississippi’s most progressive leaders.
The 1982 Education Reform Bill, which, among other things, established public kindergartens in the state, was a landmark legislative act in terms of both civil rights and economic development. William Winter “understood that education was essential for Mississippi to flourish in the future,” says Reuben V. Anderson in the film. President Bill Clinton, who was governor at Arkansas at the same time Winter served Mississippi, talks of Winter’s “personal strength and political openness” and courageous dedication to creating opportunity for the state’s children.
The film highlights the challenges of generating bipartisan change in a contentious political environment, a timely message for current political leaders. Executive producer and former gubernatorial advisor David Crews observed, “In an age of shrill, often gridlocked politics, we need more leaders with Winter’s courage, character, resolve and constructive leadership. This film portrays a rich, tumultuous period of history while documenting the accomplishments of a rare leader willing to tackle tough, vexing, important issues.”
Vernon Jordan notes the legacy of racial tensions in the state and Winter’s approach. “That kind of courage, that kind of willingness to speak out, to stand up, to take a position contrary to the consensus of white people was quite extraordinary.” Winter played a key role in Clinton’s “One America” initiative to start a national conversation on race, bringing the only deep South public forum to the University of Mississippi. The legacy of this forum is the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at UM, which strives to end all difference-based discrimination through community building, youth engagement, and scholarship.
“It’s been a remarkable challenge attempting to condense a whole life’s worth of passion, bitter defeats, and momentous victories into an hour-long documentary but I feel very satisfied with what we’ve created,” said filmmaker Matthew Graves. “To me, it’s a thrilling story of perseverance and leadership and is truly a testament to what is possible in this state.”
For Southern Documentary Project director Andy Harper, this film fits perfectly into his mission of having Mississippians telling Mississippi stories. “I think it is vitally important that we document the stories of leaders like William Winter,” says Harper.
“Governor Winter felt a moral obligation to provide all Mississippians an adequate education and he worked tirelessly towards that end. It is our obligation to tell his story.”