College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Mississippi: The Closed Society Returns to Print

James Silver’s “Mississippi: The Closed Society,” a book about “an insurrection in modern America,” is returning to print after a long hiatus.

Silver, a historian and former professor at The University of Mississippi and friend of James Meredith, wrote a book about his first-hand experience of the riot and protest on Oct. 1, 1962, surrounding Meredith’s entry to the school. “Mississippi: The Closed Society” was published in January 1964; Square Books has been carrying this book since June.

“It was a fearless and accurate critique of a culture which condemned the book and threatened Jim Silver’s life, the same culture that resisted desegregation with threats and acts of violence, which time clearly has proven to be wrong,” Richard Howorth, founder of Square Books, said. “The book serves as a historical record as well as a reminder that speaking truth to power may be dangerous but necessary if we expect to live in a healthy democracy.”

Howorth said interest books, like Silver’s “Mississippi: The Closed Society,” wane as time goes on, and publishers have to sell a certain number of books per year. This is what happened to Silver’s book.

However, with the 50th anniversary of integration at Ole Miss, interest has started to increase.

“It was a very important and timely book when it was published, and it stands up well today,” he said. Elizabeth Shriver, The Daily Mississippian editor-in-chief from 1953-54 and friend and student of Silver, said she is glad the book is returning to print and feels lucky for the time she spent with him.

“The material in ‘Mississippi: The Closed Society’ is not out of date and is as relevant today as it was when he wrote it,” she said. “I am forever grateful for his role in my life.”

Dr. Charles K. Ross, associate professor of history and director of the African-American studies program, shared a similar sentiment. He also praised Silver for his courage in penning the book at all.

“Silver’s criticism of what was at the time deemed simply ‘the way of life in Mississippi’ caused him to leave the university, but his courage to write about a way of life that was wrong was profound,” Ross said.

Jimmy Robertson, The Daily Mississippian editor-in-chief from 1961-62 said this book carried importance because it was the first book released about this subject. Robertson also said Silver was highly respected among many.

“What James Silver said mattered to his friends and his enemies and to the public at-large,” Robertson said.

Sidna Brower Mitchell, editor-in-chief of The Mississippian from 1962-63, was very close to both Silver and his wife. She said while Silver was dealing with criticism and being labeled “the most hated white man in Mississippi,” he simply tried to hide it all.

“Silver always tried to act like things didn’t bother him, but you knew they had to,” she said.

Mitchell said she was disappointed when Silver left Mississippi for a job at The University of Notre Dame, where he taught from 1965-82.

“I thought it was very sad because he was so embedded in Mississippi,” she said.

Silver wrote three other books – “Confederate Moral and Church Propaganda,” “Life for the Confederacy” and “Running Scared: Silver in Mississippi” – before his death on July 25, 1988, in Tampa, Fla.

from DM by Frances Allison