Rebuilding with an Eye to Social Equity

William Winter, the progressive governor of Mississippi from 1980 to 1984, says the Gulf Coast communities destroyed by Katrina deserve to be rebuilt. He tells Scott Simon the storm has also exposed the huge remaining gap between haves and have-nots.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

William Winter was the governor of Mississippi from 1980 until 1984, and he's a historian of his state. He's now a member of law firm Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis in Jackson, Mississippi. Katrina knocked out phone lines, power and water in Jackson and some people in the surrounding areas are still living without. Governor Winter joins us from his office.

Thanks so much for being with us again.

Former Governor WILLIAM WINTER (Mississippi): Well, thank you very much, Scott.

SIMON: Well, let me ask you first, how are you? How's your family?

Mr. WINTER: Oh, we are fine. We endured a little discomfort last week, but compared to the massiveness of the storm in other areas, we came out almost unscarred.

SIMON: You have family and friends in the area that was hardest-hit?

Mr. WINTER: Oh, I had many friends, particularly on the Gulf Coast who are devastated, who lost everything. The first day, we saw two friends with whom I was in school at Ole Miss, who lost their homes, totally lost their homes on the beach front there in Gulfport.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. WINTER: That area, of course, which is one of the beautiful and historic spots in our state, the Gulf Coast from Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi to Pascagoula, has just been devastating.

SIMON: Well, let me raise this question then with you, Governor. With respect to people who have made their lives in this very beautiful area, what would lead people to build a beautiful home in an area where, particularly with all the advantages of modern meteorological science, we know will at some point get hit by a pretty devastating hurricane?

Mr. WINTER: Well, I suppose there is a certain daring spirit in a lot of people, and they like to live in a place where they can get up in the morning and see the beautiful Gulf of Mexico and the live oaks and enjoy the balmy climate that exists there most of the time. That's not a bad quality of life for the people who are able to enjoy it. But the other side of it, too, is the people who live on the back streets, who have suffered commensurate damage...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. WINTER: ...and the destruction of homes not so grand as those along the beach.

SIMON: Governor, your name is inscribed in the--I don't know honestly if it's granite or marble--of the state office building just a few blocks from where your offices are there in Jackson. And your name will probably forever be identified by Mississippians with the Education Reform Bill of 1982 that provided for kindergarten for every citizen of Mississippi. A lot of your work has been with and for people identified as the poor and underprivileged of your state, and a lot of people have noticed that this storm seems to have have hit the poor hardest of all.

Mr. WINTER: If there is any good thing that has come out of this, I think it has been the establishment among more people of the understanding that there is a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots. Everyone was hit with the same wind and water, but those who were unable for whatever reason to get to places of safety, the burden--the blow fell more harshly on the poor than on the privileged. That is the lesson I think of Katrina, that we have a huge job in front of us, not only to rebuild physical structures but to rebuild a social fabric where there is a recognition that this great rich country of ours cannot afford to tolerate a system that does not permit people to live with decency and homes that are adequate and with educational opportunities for everyone on an equal basis. So we have a huge job to do, in my opinion.

SIMON: This week, we've been recording greeting or salutations from people who are from the areas that were hit by Hurricane Katrina and asking them just what they might say to their fellow residents of those areas who are displaced. And I'm wondering if we might get you to say something to your fellow Mississippians.

Mr. WINTER: Well, I'm William Winter, a former governor of Mississippi, and I would say to my friends and my fellow Mississippians, my fellow citizens who have suffered so much as a result of Hurricane Katrina that I applaud the courage, the steadfastness with which you have emerged from this tragedy. And I want to assure you that we are going to provide every possible means that we can in this tragic time for the restoration of your homes, your properties, your businesses, your opportunities to make a living and to join with you in looking forward to a quality of life in the future that will be at least as good as that which you've enjoyed in the past as you work together to re-establish the Gulf Coast of Mississippi as one of the most delightful and desirable places to live in all America.

SIMON: Thank you, Governor.

Mr. WINTER: Thank you, Scott.

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