Last September, nearly 50 years after he left UM in a storm of controversy, the late James W. Silver was honored by the university.
The professor of history and author of an acclaimed book about repression during the segregation era was honored with a program, “Opening the Closed Society,” commemorating 50 years of integration at UM, and a ceremony dedicating Silver Pond, a new body of water near his former home on campus, along with a commemorative marker. The ceremony was followed by speeches and discussions by former students and colleagues about Silver’s impact on the university and state of Mississippi.
“His sterling legacy was that he challenged students and the public to think beyond their prior experience to a broad range of ideas, even controversial ones,” said John Robin Bradley, a professor of law and chair of the Silver Commemorative Committee.
During segregation, Silver, a constant and vocal critic of racial taboos, was frequently at odds with state political leaders. He took a leave of absence from UM after the publication of his 1964 treatise, Mississippi: The Closed Society, to teach at the University of Notre Dame and eventually joined the faculty at the University of South Florida.
Silver, who specialized in Southern history, joined the UM faculty in 1936 and served as chair of the history department from 1946 to 1957.
During the ceremony, Chancellor Dan Jones introduced prominent alumni offering personal recollections of Silver, including former Mississippi Gov. William Winter of Jackson; Elizabeth Nichols Shiver of Oxford, editor of The Mississippian 1953-54; Daniel P. Jordan of Charlottesville, Va., a 1960 graduate and former president of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation at Monticello; and Edwin N. Williams of Charlotte, N.C., editor of The Daily Mississippian in 1964-65, who became editorial page editor of The Charlotte Observer. Gerald W. Walton, UM provost emeritus and a member of the faculty during Silver’s years at UM, moderated.