By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Seventy-five years after he arrived on campus and 49 years after the integration violence whose fallout later forced his departure, the University of Mississippi honored James Silver on Friday.
A picturesque body of water near where the history professor’s home stood is now Silver Pond.
From 1936 to 1964 Silver taught at Ole Miss, gathering enemies with sharp social criticism and his book “Mississippi: The Closed Society,” while becoming beloved to students.
“Students, you should know that my dad enjoyed teaching you enormously,” said Bill Silver, the professor’s eldest offspring.
Law professor emeritus John Bradley, who organized the event, was pleased that more than 100 of those who knew Silver helped fund the bronze plaque.
“It is a gift that the university is extremely proud of, as we continue to recognize that the university is proud of Jim Silver,” Bradley said.
Chancellor Dan Jones, whose most public criticism currently regards athletics, noted the differences that Silver helped effect.
“Those in leadership who make some decisions now are in peril of public ridicule in the media but no longer are in serious peril of their lives, as Dr. Silver was,” Jones said.
Former students recalled their mentor. Gov. William Winter said he wished he’d “shown up at the showdown” more often to defend Silver. He told of being asked by segregationist voters during a race for governor about his connections to “‘that Communist up there at Ole Miss, John Silverman.’ I said, ‘John Silverman?’ Never heard of him in my life,” Winter said to uproarious laughter. “He forgave me for that; I think he understood.”
Liz Shiver, who went on to a Washington, D.C., career in public relations, said Silver’s most lasting legacy to her was “the people he shared with me. There weren’t that many like-minded people around to be found.”
Dan Jordan, who oversaw Monticello as president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, said Silver transformed him and his wife.
“Dr. Silver helped to awake our social consciences,” he said. “He shaped our core values and fixed the destinies of our lives.”
Ed Williams, longtime editor of the Charlotte Observer, said Silver was a tough teacher who modeled courage.
“He was brave and honest and forthright about things that mattered,” Williams said. “On my best days, I think I come somewhat near to the standard he set every day.”