Dec. 19 (UPI) -- Former Mississippi governor William Winter died Friday. He was 97.
Winter, a Democrat who served as the state's governor from 1980 to 1984, is remembered as a crusader for public education and civil rights.
Winter helped push through the state's Education Reform Act in 1982, which brought kindergartens, compulsory school attendance and numerous other key reforms to a state that had long struggled with poverty and poor educational outcomes.
After his political career ended, he continued to fight for funding for the Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights museums, which opened to the public in 2017.
He was also an early and vocal advocate of changing the state flag to remove its Confederate emblem, which Mississippi voters decided to do in November.
"(Winter) fought to bring equity to education through the Education Reform Act of 1982, which set high standards for students, teachers and schools and established free public kindergarten for all children," said Mississippi Superintendent of Education Carey Wright in a statement.
Winter's alma mater, the University of Mississippi, issued a statement on Twitter describing Winter as a "a pillar of racial reconciliation and champion for Mississippi."
Winter was elected to the Mississippi Legislature in 1947 while still a student at the University of Mississippi Law School.
His opposition to segregation, the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens Councils earned him the animus of Southern hate groups, with the KKK threatening his life during his first, unsuccessful gubernatorial run in 1967.
In the 1990s, he served on then-President Bill Clinton's National Commission on Race. Later he created the Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation to continue racial justice work.