In Memoriam: Winifred A. Green

1937 – 2016

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 1960s, died February 6 in New Orleans after a series of health setbacks. She was 78-years-old.

Green dedicated her life to educational equity for all children and social justice for African Americans and women.

Green described her childhood in the Belhaven community 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 well-educated black youths. “It was revolutionary. I knew somebody had not been telling me the truth,” she said. 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 Green during the 1964 Freedom Summer.

Green worked for the American Friends Service Committee, and traveled around Mississippi with another AFSC staffer, Connie Curry, to find black parents willing to send their children to the white schools. When some lost their jobs and property and were threatened, AFSC gave them moral support.

The Mae Bertha and Matthew Carter family was very special to Winifred because of their courage. They were 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 Green was one of the state’s few homegrown grassroots white activists, willing to face family disapproval and the loss of friends. Green 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.”

Green 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. At SEPEP she met and hired a young Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald.

In 1968, Winifred was asked to purchase mules for the Mule Train that would travel from Marks, Miss. to Washington, D.C. to be part of the Poor People’s Campaign. She bought them in Alabama from a seller who had his confederate flag prominently displayed. 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 to ensure that black and poor children got a good education. She and her staff created a summer reading program that became an early pilot for the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® program.

In 1994 Green convinced Fitzgerald to return to their native Mississippi to relaunch a Children’s Defense Fund Black Community for Crusade for Children office. The Children’s Defense Fund- Southern Regional Office celebrated 20 years of operation in 2015 and continues to thrive because of Green’s council and ability to bridge relationships between generations.

Since 2002, Green has served as senior consultant to the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative 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.

Green 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.

Green also loved and cherished her New Orleans Saints and bled black and gold. Through good times and bad times, win or lose, brown paper bag or Super Bowl ring, she was a diehard Saint’s fan who owned season tickets in the coveted “super fan” section 150.

After Hurricane Katrina and the renovation of the Superdome she purchased a second set of season tickets in the more upscale bunker section. But, she never abandoned her “super fan” section and would graciously give friends access to her new VIP status by allowing them to use her tickets as they were available. That was just her way.

She lived in the Bywater neighborhood with her cats Alice and Langston.

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.

Despite health problems in the past few years, she continued to offer ideas, observations and insights to CDF and SRBWI.

She is survived by her uncle, Joshua Green of Jackson; cousins, The Rev. Reynolds S. Cheney II and his wife Stephanie of Memphis, Tenn., W. Garner Cheney and his wife Martha of Birmingham, Ala., 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 leaves to cherish her memories many godchildren and a legion of friends.

Funeral Services will be held at noon on February 11, 2016 at St. Andrews Episcopal Cathedral, 305 Capitol Street in Jackson. Visitation will begin at 11 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations in her honor to Children’s Defense Fund/SRBWI, 25 E. Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

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