James Wesley Silver

James Wesley Silver was born in Tampa, Florida on 28th June, 1907. He began teaching history at the University of Mississippi in 1936 and soon developed a reputation as a radical who sympathized with the plight of African Americans.

Silver created a great deal of controversy with his book, Mississippi: The Closed Society (1964), a savage indictment of the state's political and racial practices. Hostility from the local white population forced him to leave Mississippi and join the history faculty at Notre Dame (1964-69). He later taught at the University of South Florida (1969-79).

In retirement, Silver also wrote Confederate Morale and Church Propaganda (1967), Life for the Confederacy (1974) and Running Scared: Silver in Mississippi (1984). James Wesley Silver died in Tampa, Florida, on 25th July, 1988.

Primary Sources

(1) James W. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society (1964)

In every Mississippi community there is an anxious, fearful, frustrated group of marginal white men. It makes no difference whether these people are suffering from their own personal inadequacies or whether they are overwhelmed by circumstances: they escape from their troubles periodically into the excitement of racial conflict. They are impelled to keep the Negro down in order to look up to themselves.

Racial bigotry transcends reason in Mississippi because, for varying motives, so many leaders are willing to exploit the nameless dreads and alarms that have taken possession of most white people. The poor whites may not raise their low standard of living by blaming it on Negroes, but they do release an aggressive energy upon a socially accepted scapegoat. Themselves last in everything else, they can still rejoice in having the "nigger" beneath them. At least in the short run, nearly every white man does stand to derive economic, political, or social status from keeping Negroes in their place.