Won Over

Reflections of a Federal Judge on His Journey from Jim Crow Mississippi

William Alsup

Foreword by Thelton Henderson

Title Details

Pages: 250

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 03/01/2019

ISBN: 9-781-5883-8342-6

List Price: $27.95


NewSouth Books

Won Over

Reflections of a Federal Judge on His Journey from Jim Crow Mississippi

William Alsup

Foreword by Thelton Henderson

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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.

A revealing account of how one young man overcame his segregationist upbringing and conspired with a few friends to take on Mississippi’s white establishment… Informative and inspiring.

—Charles Overby, chairman of Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics, University of Mississippi

This is a captivating story of the metamorphosis of a son of the South who helped usher in a new day of race relations in Jim Crow Mississippi. This book is superbly written and offers an accurate, personal look at the influences and motivations behind one man’s journey during a troubling time in history. I highly recommend this book.

—Bill Waller, retired Jr. Chief Justice of Mississippi

With prose that is at times lyrical and occasionally searing, Judge Alsup shares a deeply personal account of his experience growing up in very modest circumstances in segregated rural Mississippi, where 'the Civil War felt as if it had just ended.' Alsup becomes an active participant in the turbulent struggle for civil rights and racial equality. His career culminates as an accomplished lawyer and ultimately as a highly regarded federal judge. This riveting narrative, in which personal and historical events are skillfully interwoven, is adorned with gems such as the author’s observation that his parents—despite their segregationist views—'essentially agreed with Lincoln that anyone who believed in slavery should try it on for size.'

—California Chief Justice Ronald M. George (retired)

This engaging memoir of the Civil Rights era by one of our most distinguished federal judges confronts the past with admirable candor as it chronicles a young white Southerner's journey from acceptance of the racial status quo to a commitment to full equality for all.

—Linda Greenhouse, lecturer at Yale Law School, contributing columnist at the New York Times

About the Author/Editor

WILLIAM ALSUP is a senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Alsup received a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from Mississippi State University in 1967, a Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1971, and a Master of Public Policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1971.