Obituaries : James Wesley Silver; Historian, Author, Civil Rights Champion

From Times Wire Services

Historian and author James Wesley Silver, whose outspoken criticism of white supremacy in Mississippi led to his dismissal from the University of Mississippi faculty more than two decades ago, died Monday at 81.

Family members said Silver’s death was due to complications from emphysema.

Silver went to Ole Miss in 1936 and left in 1965 at the request of the university’s board of trustees following publication in 1964 of “Mississippi: A Closed Society.”

The book explored the racial divisions in the state and sharply criticized its white political establishment.


“He was controversial from the day he was born,” his wife, Margaret, said Monday from her home in Dunedin, Fla. “He liked nothing better than upsetting (former Gov.) Ross Barnett and people like that.”

“We were big troublemakers. I think he did a lot of good,” she said.

Silver’s other books include “Confederate Mississippi and Church Propaganda,” “A Life for the Confederacy,” “Mississippi in the Confederacy” and “Running Scared: Silver in Mississippi,” his account of his own experiences there.

After leaving Ole Miss, he taught at the University of Notre Dame and then at the University of South Florida in Tampa, from which he retired in 1979.


In 1984, Silver returned to Oxford to be honored by the University of Mississippi. In an interview that same year, he said he held no hard feelings about the past.

“There were a bunch of dummies running things in the ‘60s, but there were some fine people, too,” he said. “I think Mississippi has done well in the last 20 years.”

In his 1984 campus address Silver recalled that many people over the years had asked why he wanted to stay in Mississippi when his views were so unpopular.

He quoted William Faulkner, an old friend and fishing companion, who once wrote:

“We will not sit quietly by and see our native land, the South, wreck and ruin itself twice in less than a hundred years over the Negro question.

“We speak now against the day when our Southern people will say: ‘Why didn’t someone tell us this before? Tell us this in time.’ ”