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Winifred Green

1937 - 2016 Obituary Condolences
Winifred Green Obituary
Winifred A. Green

New Orleans, LA

Winifred A. Green, a fifth generation Mississippian from a prominent Jackson family who defied tradition, threats and family disapproval to join the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's, died on Saturday in New Orleans after a series of health setbacks. She was 78-years-old and dedicated her life to educational equity for all children and social justice for African Americans and women.

Winifred described her childhood in Belhaven as a "very secure, secluded world of privilege." She did not think about race or segregation, she told an oral historian at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1997, until she attended an Episcopal conference in Boston as a youth delegate and met smart, well-educated black youths. "It was revolutionary. I knew somebody had not been telling me the truth." She returned to Jackson to announce to the Bishop that there were black Episcopalians.

After graduating from Millsaps College in 1963, she and four other white women created Mississippians for Public Education and organized women to prevent the Mississippi Legislature from closing the public schools to avoid integration. The women made the case that uninterrupted education was essential for all children and the violence seen in other southern cities trying to avoid desegregation would harm Jackson economically. The schools stayed open.

"We have lost one of the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement," said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund who, as a young civil rights attorney, met Winifred during the 1964 Freedom Summer.

Winifred worked for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and traveled around Mississippi with another AFSC staffer, Connie Curry, to find black parents willing to send their children to the white schools. Some lost jobs and property and were threatened so AFSC gave them moral support. One family very special to Winifred for their courage were Mae Bertha and Matthew Carter, sharecroppers who enrolled their eight school age children in a white school in Sunflower County. Bullets were fired into the Carter's house, and they were evicted with no source of income. Most of the Carter children later graduated from college.

Edelman said that Winifred was one of the state's few homegrown grassroots white activists, willing to face family disapproval and the loss of friends. Winifred recalled her mother saying, "'What did we do wrong?'" She told her mother, "Granny taught me, 'Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight' and I didn't know that she didn't really mean black people." Winifred took care of her mother at the end of her mother's life and they reconciled.

Winifred moved to Atlanta in 1965 to work on voter registration and school desegregation in rural Georgia. She continued to work in programs of social, political and educational reform and directed the Alabama Community Relations Program of the AFSC. For the next 12 years, as Director of the Southeastern Public Education program, she pioneered reforms in the region's public education system.

In 1968, Winifred was asked to purchase the mules for the Mule Train from Marks, Mississippi, to travel to Washington, D.C. to be part of the Poor People's Campaign. She bought them in Alabama (Mississippi no longer had any mules or at least none for sale) , Mississippi having no mules. The seller had his confederate flag prominently displayed and on the advice of a black farmer, she studied the mules' teeth as if she knew something about them.

She returned to Jackson in 1980 to found the Southern Coalition for Educational Equity, a non- profit dedicated to equity and excellence in public schools. She once explained that since she and others had devoted so much effort towards school desegregation, she wanted to take the next steps in ensuring that black and poor children got a good education. A summer reading program she and her staff created was an early pilot for the Children's Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program.

Since 1992, Winifred has served as Senior Consultant to the Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative (SRBWI) to promote economic and social justice for rural black women in 77 counties in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, with an emphasis on economic development, human rights and youth leadership.

Winifred had a passion for theater, good food and music. In New Orleans, where she lived for the past decade, she loved Galatoires and the jazz club Snug Harbor where the ticket taker said she came so often she practically paid their light bill. She lived in the Bywater neighborhood with her cats Alice and Langston. Despite severe health problems in the past few years, she continued to offer ideas, observations and insights to CDF and SRBWI.

For more than 40 years, she served on the Children's Defense Fund Board of Directors and was past president of New Stage Theater in Jackson. Honors include Women of Achievement from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Florina Lasker Award from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Fannie Lou Hamer Humanitarian Award from Jackson State University, and a Medal of Excellence from the Mississippi University for Women. She was also selected as one of ten "Women of Vision" honored in 2013 by the Women's Foundation of Mississippi.

She is survived by her uncle, Joshua Green of Jackson; and her cousins, The Rev. Reynolds S. Cheney II and his wife, Stephanie of Memphis, TN, W. Garner Cheney and his wife, Martha of Birmingham, Al, Winifred G. Barron and her husband, Patric, Louise Hamilton of Greenville, N.C., Sally Carlyle of Tarboro, N.C., and Sam B. Carlyle of Pinehurst, N.C. She is also survived by many godchildren and a legion of friends.

Funeral services will be held Thursday, February 11th, at St. Andrews Episcopal Church, 350 Capital Street in Jackson. The service will be held at noon, with visitation beginning at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, please send donations in her honor to Children's Defense Fund/SRBWI at 25 E. Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

Published in Clarion Ledger from Feb. 10 to Feb. 12, 2016
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