The pond at the Sorority Row entrance to campus now bears the name Silver, named after a former University of Mississippi history professor. For his many contributions to the campus, Ole Miss honored James “Jim” Silver on Friday evening, dedicating Silver Pond in his memory.
Silver taught history at Ole Miss from 1946-1957 and also wrote a number of books. In his most famous book “Mississippi: The Closed Society,” he discussed the racial customs in the South and mentioned James Meredith, the first African-American student who enrolled at Ole Miss. He became Meredith’s friend and advisor through the intense time of ridicule and death threats in the early 1960s.
This was one example of the many ways he stood up against racial prejudice during a time when racism and segregation dominated the South, and the state of Mississippi specifically.
Former Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat was on hand at the dedication and had his own memories of Silver.
“He was known as a wonderful history professor,” Khayat said. “He was not only a great teacher and scholar, but he was funny and he liked the students, and there was a lot of interaction among Dr. Silver and the students.” Khayat said people most likely didn’t realize how courageous Silver’s stance really was at the time. “I don’t know if he was even thought of as courageous because things were so different,” Khayat said. “It turned out that he proved to be incredibly courageous to take that stand because that’s just not something that was happening from the leadership position.”
James Robertson was one of Silver’s students in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and he spoke about his old professor at the dedication.
“I think he saw history as a lot of two steps forward and one step backwards, or maybe a little closer would be five steps forward and four steps backwards,” Robertson said.
Shortly after the dedication, Chancellor Dan Jones opened up the symposium as he introduced a panel of former students and friends who knew Silver. The panel consisted of former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, Elizabeth Nichols Shiver, Daniel P. Jordan and Edwin Williams. “He was a firm believer in the true sense of equality of individuals, and in terms of the opportunities, equal opportunities,” Winter said. “ And he believed that and he would not compromise on that, and that was at a time when that was not a popular position to take.”
As Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie introduced Jones at the symposium, he snuck in a comment about the Forward Rebels controversy. “In recent days Dan Jones has come from the same pressure sort of mentality. Back then we had the anonymous Rebel Underground,” Wilkie said as listeners in the room chuckled. “Today we have an anonymous operation called Forward Rebels. Dan Jones stood up to these people with the same sort of courage that we once saw from Dr. Silver.”
It was Jones’ response that summarized the bravery of the stances which Silver took against racial injustice showing how far the state has come. “Those in leadership who make some decisions now are at peril of public ridicule and the media, but no longer seriously in peril of their lives as Dr. Silver was when he made the decisions that he did and took the stands that he took,” Jones said.
Many members of Silver’s family were also there at both events, including his son Bill Silver.
“The fact of the matter was that the people he knew best and respected were not the people that had coffee at the mansion restaurant, but other historians on other faculties from all over the country,” Bill Silver said.