Winifred A. Green was a fifth-generation white Mississippian who committed her life to social justice in the South. She was born on June 18, 1937, and was raised in the Belhaven section of Jackson. As the child, grandchild, and great-grandchild of attorneys, Green grew up in a comfortable, middle-class Episcopalian family, whose only contact with African Americans was through the black servants who helped raise her and her sister. When she was fifteen she attended the general convention of the Episcopal Church in Boston, where she interacted with black Episcopalians on an equal basis for the first time. When she returned from the conference she insisted on meeting with Duncan Gray Sr., the Episcopal bishop of Mississippi, to tell him about her experience. Though nothing changed for black or white Mississippi Episcopalians as a result of her meeting with Gray, Green herself was fundamentally changed by her trip to Boston.
Green said that the civil rights movement saved her life, as it opened up a world of purpose and employment for her. Her activism began when she met Patt Derian while completing her bachelor’s degree in English from Millsaps College in the early 1960s. In 1963 Green and Derian, along with Elaine Crystal, Mary Ann Henderson, and Joan Geiger formed Mississippians for Public Education (MPE), an organization devoted to keeping Mississippi public schools open in the wake of white resistance to school desegregation. During that same summer, Green also worked with the interracial and interfaith civil rights group Wednesdays in Mississippi. She moved to Atlanta in 1965 to work for the Georgia Council on Human Relations and later for the American Friends Service Committee, for which she worked for more than twelve years as director of the Southeastern Public Education Program.
Her later work on public education ensured that all students had equal access to a quality education in the South. For example, in 1980 Green founded the Southern Coalition for Educational Equity, and from 1992 until her death, Green served as senior consultant to the Southern Rural Black Women’s Initiative, which promotes economic and social justice for women in rural counties in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. She had a long friendship with civil rights lawyer and Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) founder Marian Wright Edelman, with whom she worked on educational reform. She served for forty years on the CDF board of directors and was also a president of New Stage Theater in Jackson.
Green was honored for her commitment to social justice as a Woman of Achievement by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and as a Woman of Vision by the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi. She also received 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 Mississippi University for Women.
Green died in New Orleans, where she was living, on February 6, 2016.
- Constance Curry, Silver Rights: The Story of the Carter Family (1995)
- JoAnne Prichard Morris, Jackson Free Press (February 12, 2016)
- “Oral History with Winifred Green” (1997) Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage, University of Southern Mississippi
- Joan Sadoff, Robert Sadoff, and Laura J. Lipson, Standing on my Sisters’ Shoulders (film, 2002)
- Rebecca Tuuri, “Interview with Winifred Green, New Orleans, Louisiana” (September 17, 2007)