THE CLAY HILLS 385 THE PINE BELT 385 of the “Seabee” training base in Gulfport during the war. He returned to Starkville in 1943 when his father died. “Mr. Mac,” as he came to be known, opened his business on one of the downtown streets. During the war, he sold paint and did electrical wiring. After the war, with the several veterans he trained as electricians, he built his business on wiring houses with electricity and selling them new appliances, such as refrigerators or stoves. McIngvale Electric and Refrigeration Company offered the latest refrigerators, stoves, water heaters, fans, and stocked a line of electrified Empire Milking Machines to support the expanding local dairy industry. When televisions first became available, “Mr. Mac” was the first to stock them. He placed one in his store window, and the picture amazed every passerby. Perhaps most significant, World War II and its aftermath set the context for meaningful political and social change, particularly in race relations. The white and African American men who had served in the war returned with new perspectives on the world. Some of these men had learned hard lessons from the wartime violence and destruction they had witnessed. They lived with these traumatic experiences for the rest of their lives. But many also came home having had new and positive experiences with other, more cosmopolitan cultures in other countries. African American soldiers in particular gained new confidence from their wartime service. Many of them had experienced places free of Jim Crow segregation for the first time in their lives. Although their first priority when they returned home was to get jobs, wartime experiences set the stage for a future push for black freedom and equality. Politicians were starting to change too as exemplified by the career of the moderate and racially progressive state politician William Winter. Winter was from an old Grenada County cotton farming family whose roots in the region dated back to the 1840s. While growing up, the young Winter was mostly a product of his time. Yet his attitudes began to change after attending Ole Miss, where history professor James Silver, an outspoken critic of southern race relations, became one of his mentors. During his World War II service he worked within an integrated officer corps and trained African American troops for the Army. With these experiences in mind and a law degree in hand, Winter followed his father, Aylmer’s, footsteps and entered state politics postwar. He served in the state legislature during the late 1940s and 1950s, where he was a voice of racial moderation. Under the leadership of Governor Coleman, another Clay Hills moderate, Winter became state tax collector where, in 1959, he helped lead the John F. Kennedy/Lyndon B. Johnson presidential campaign in Mississippi. In the wake of the violence that marked Mississippi’s race relations during the 1960s, Winter emerged as the voice of moderation. In 1980, he was elected as the state’s fifty- eighth governor. Yet real change could not happen without a push from African Americans. For years following the war, however, many African Americans in this region were unwilling to rock the racial status quo. Some of them, particularly those who were professionals or small businessmen like Robert Weir, had found opportunity in the Clay Hills, especially if they were willing to work quietly with whites and to confine their activism to working within their communities to help their own. They feared that challenging Jim Crow, however unfair and oppressive it was, would threaten their livelihoods, their families’well-being, and perhaps their lives as well. So, although men like Weir, were “convinced of the coming of a better day for blacks,” he feared the kind of violence and retribution that might be needed to make it possible. For these reasons and others, the civil rights movement was slow in coming to the region. Robert Weir’s cautiousness was typical among African Americans in postwar Starkville. This changed during the 1960s when Dr. Douglass Conner, a Meridian-born physician and World War II veteran, emerged as the leader of the city’s budding civil rights movement. Conner was the founder of the local NAACP chapter in 1969, and in this position he fought to change the old racial attitudes that had worked to stifle dissent and discourage racial change. As he remarked in retrospect, African Americans in Starkville, like so many places in the Clay Hills, “were so accustomed to segregation that they could not imagine battling the system. They simply believed the town’s white leaders would ‘do what was right.” Starkville’s African Americans, like others across the region, were not necessarily passive, but they were afraid of the kind of economic or personal retribution they might suffer if they stepped out of line, spoke up too loudly, or worked openly to challenge the system. None of them could afford to lose their jobs, after all. And they had reason for concern, for lynchings were not unknown in the region. And then there was the Klan. Both the White Knights and the United Klan of America, two factions of the Ku Klux Klan, had active chapters in many central and eastern Clay Hills Perhaps most significant, World War II and its aftermath set the context for meaningful political and social change, particularly in race relations.