What was it like growing up white in Mississippi as the Civil Rights Movement exploded in the 1950s and '60s. How did white children reconciled the decency and fairness taught by their parents with the indecency and unfairness of the Mississippi Way of Life, the euphemism applied to the pervasive Jim Crow. How did the Civil Rights Movement influence white kids coming of age in the most segregated place in America? Won Over, a memoir, examines these questions as it traces the journey of United States District Judge William Alsup, born white in 1945 to hard-working parents in Mississippi. They believed in segregation. But they also taught their children fairness and decency and therein lay the conflict, a struggle at the core of the human predicament in the South. As Won Over recalls near its outset, the author's earliest doubt about the system came at age twelve when what he'd thought stood as an abandoned shack at the bottom of a sand quarry turned out to be a school for black kids, whom we saw playing in the mud outside its door. At the end, Won Over reflects on a 1966 challenge by the author and his college roommate to the Mississippi Speaker Ban, an official rule against any "controversial" speaker coming onto a college campus in Mississippi, a rule used to quash their invitation to the state president of the NAACP to speak at their college, Mississippi State University. After a tense showdown, the roommates won that challenge. In January 1967, Aaron Henry became the first black ever to speak on a white college campus in Mississippi, receiving a standing ovation. The memoir traces the influences that drew the author from traditional Southern attitudes toward a color-blind ideal. Those influences included his older sister, Willanna, his closest circle of friends, a charismatic mentor in college, and the moral force of the Civil Rights Movement. Won Over recounts their steps along that journey -- a counter protest to a John Birch Society billboard calling for the impeachment of Chief Justice Earl Warren; meeting personally with the brother of slain leader Medgar Evers to convey condolences; a letter to the editor of the statewide paper on behalf of his circle of friends declaring "We are for civil rights for Negroes"; joining his college roommate in a rally at Tougaloo College to support the Meredith March Against Racism; and going to the Liberty Baptist Church in Chicago to hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. exhort the faithful in their summer-long protest against housing and employment discrimination. In 1967, William Alsup went on to Harvard Law School, then to clerk for Justice William O. Douglas. He briefly practiced civil rights law in Mississippi before moving to San Francisco, where he became a trial attorney and, in 1999, received an appointment as United States District Judge.
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