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Author: Durr, Virginia Foster, interviewee
Interview conducted by Egerton, John
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
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2006.
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2006-00-00, Celine Noel and Wanda Gunther revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
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Source(s):
Title of sound recording: Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, February 6, 1991. Interview A-0337. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0337)
Author: John Egerton
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, February 6, 1991. Interview A-0337. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0337)
Author: Virginia Foster Durr
Description: 169 Mb
Description: 41 p.
Note: Interview conducted on February 6, 1991, by John Egerton; recorded in Unknown.
Note: Transcribed by Jovita Flynn.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series A. Southern Politics, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, February 6, 1991.
Interview A-0337. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Durr, Virginia Foster, interviewee


Interview Participants

    VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR, interviewee
    JOHN EGERTON, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
. . . John L. Lewis as his PR man. So she [Lucy Randolph Mason] was also a great friend of Mrs. Roosevelt. Then, at the same time, Joe Gelders, who was at the University of Alabama, a professor of science of some kind, he got interested in the labor union movement too, and he got to be head of something called the Southern something. Anyway, the two of them met over in Mississippi. They were having terrible strife over there, labor strife, and the unions. And old Rankin was raising hell and high water, and Jim Eastland, and that awful [Theodore] Bilbo. So there was a terrific lot of bad labor going on over in Mississippi. So Joe Gelders and Miss Lucy were, you know, together. So Miss Lucy, who is. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
How old was she at that time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, Miss Lucy, I reckon, was in her fifties.
JOHN EGERTON:
You describe her in your book as already being a white haired lady.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, she was, but I would say fifties. They lived right down the road from me. Her brother-in-law was the head of the bank, and her sister was the leader of the, [Laughter] what fashionable set there was in Alexandria, Virginia. She had the biggest parties and biggest luncheons. But Miss Lucy had gone into good works early, you know, and tried to help the little girls who worked in the tobacco factory. But anyway, the gist of the matter is that she got hold of Mrs. Roosevelt, and she got a promise out of Mrs. Roosevelt that the President of the United States, Mr. Roosevelt, would see them. So Joe and Miss Lucy went

Page 2
up to Hyde Park or whatever and had tea or dinner or something with them. See, the thing about Miss Lucy was that she was a lady par eminence, if you know what I mean.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, she was a real Virginia lady, wasn't she?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
She was a lady if there ever was one. So they talked a great deal. So the idea was conceived of having this—the president already was furious at the southern senators because they were kicking in the teeth everything he was trying to do. So they got the idea of forming a South-wide group of people. He was all for it. It was right after he had tried to get rid of [Senator Walter] George of Georgia, you know, and they had beaten him. So he was still fuming about it. So anyway, sure enough, they got it going, and all the labor unions went into it. Bill Mitch, particularly, of the Miners was very active. See, it was in Birmingham. And then Joe Gelders, of course, was stationed there, and he had been beat up there, you know. That awful beating. Then there was one communist, I remember, his name was Rob Hall. Boy, you should see him now. He's married to this rich girl up in New York and he has a Caddy. [Laughter]
JOHN EGERTON:
Ain't no revolution, is there?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Revolution, he didn't want to speak about it. He called me up, said he wanted to see how I was.
JOHN EGERTON:
There were some sisters, too, you mentioned in your book, a couple of women who were communists, and they passed out literature and stuff. I'm trying to call up their names.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Jane and Dolly Speed. There were very few, only two or three communists in the whole South. And it really was a

Page 3
tremendous undertaking because, you see, it was the beginning of Roosevelt's anger. Very few realize, maybe they do realize it, Roosevelt was a man of great, strong anger.
JOHN EGERTON:
He had a hot temper, didn't he?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Not only that, he wanted to get back at you. If you'd done him wrong, boy, he wanted to get you back.
JOHN EGERTON:
He was vindictive.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, he really was. And thought those southerners had just really hurt him in every possible way, you know, by ruining all the things that he wanted to get done. So Frank Graham got to be the president of it [the Southern Conference for Human Welfare]. Then, of course, it really went along for several years very well until they began to red bait it. Then it got to be just a mess after that because of this continuous series of red baiting. It continued really up until the war. Then after that it. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
Let me back you up to the time before that big meeting. You tell in your book about the group of young southerners, New Deal Southerners, around Washington while you all were living in Alexandria. They called themselves the Southern Policy Committee, and they would meet occasionally at people's houses just to talk about problems and whatnot.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
The Southern Policy Committee, it met on a regular basis. It met downtown. That was Lister Hill and Jonathan Daniels. They were all strictly male, and they all met downtown. They were the ones that started that pamphlet about the South, you know.

Page 4
JOHN EGERTON:
The number one economic problem.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Now, the other group was a group of young southerners who were working on the Hill mostly.
JOHN EGERTON:
Like Clark Foreman?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Who were trying to get rid of the poll tax, and who were politicking.
JOHN EGERTON:
Ted Goldschmidt. Who was he?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He was with the Committee of. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
What state was he from?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He was from Illinois. But he was one of those big—Secretary of the Interior, connected to them. That's how I met Lyndon Johnson. If you'd been reading about us in the. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
I've heard about it, but I haven't been reading that.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, he's got all this stuff about us, and people we knew. Well, we met them all through Lyndon Johnson, and we met Lyndon Johnson through Ted Goldschmidt. He was with the Interior Department, and he and Clark Foreman were in the Interior Department. They were in charge of the dams, you know, and water. Of course, Lyndon lived for nothing in the world but the rural Colorado River.
JOHN EGERTON:
Now, Goldschmidt was not from the South, though?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah, from Texas.
JOHN EGERTON:
Oh, Goldschmidt was from Texas, and Abe Fortus was from Memphis, and Clark Foreman was from. . . .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
His uncle was the editor of the Constitution, Clark Howell.
JOHN EGERTON:
And Arthur Raper was from Virginia, wasn't he?

Page 5
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, he was from North Carolina.
JOHN EGERTON:
And Cliff Durr was from here, and Hugo Black was from Alabama. All of these people were, in one way or another. . . .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Lister Hill.
JOHN EGERTON:
Part of that Southern Policy Committee group. Including Lyndon Johnson?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, I don't think Lyndon was really part of that. Lyndon never was a person who'd go to regular meetings, [Laughter] unless he ran them.
JOHN EGERTON:
Aubrey Williams, was he in there?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah, Aubrey would go sometimes. But it was a lot of southerners, and they all got together and they all were responsible for getting that pamphlet out.
JOHN EGERTON:
That was in '38. It came out in June, I think, of that year.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
And the Southern Conference [for Human Welfare], it—I think what people have never understood and taken seriously enough is the fact that it was backed by the president of United States and it was his idea actually to begin with. He did it because he was mad as hell, to use the expression, at the way they had been treated by the southern senators. He really was angry with them.
JOHN EGERTON:
To make matters worse, not only did they give him a hard time in the 1936 election and right on past there, but after that pamphlet came out in June, they had the off-year elections in '38 and the Republicans made big gains that fall. So just about three weeks before this meeting in Birmingham, there had

Page 6
been an election at which several senators were defeated and a whole bunch of House seats were lost. So it was like rubbing salt in the wound, you know.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, it was rubbing salt in the wound. I'm not just saying this because he's my brother-in-law, but I always felt Roosevelt used Hugo [Black] as one method of getting back at them.
JOHN EGERTON:
Now, he was in the Senate, wasn't he?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He was in the Senate but he had stood by Roosevelt all the way. But he had particularly stood by him in that court packing. So that was the thing that I think probably made Roosevelt more grateful.
JOHN EGERTON:
When was he appointed to the court?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He was appointed to the court, it seems to me, in '38.
JOHN EGERTON:
Could it have been '37? I can check this.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He was about to run for the Senate, and we were down in Alabama. My little sister was being insulted all the time. I remember that. Then all that big to-do came about the Ku Klux Klan. I think that was, when was the first meeting of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare?
JOHN EGERTON:
It was in the fall of '38.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, this was '37, the year before.
JOHN EGERTON:
And when he went on the court, is that when John Sparkman was appointed to take his place, or how did Sparkman get in the Senate? Who took Hugo's place as a senator?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I thought it was John Bankhead, wasn't it?

Page 7
JOHN EGERTON:
Did they move Bankhead from the House? Did he get appointed to the Senate?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I have to think way back. Let's see. Lister took his old place.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, who was the other senator then?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
John Bankhead.
JOHN EGERTON:
I thought he was in the House.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That was Bill Bankhead, you're thinking about. This is John Bankhead. Bill Bankhead was the Speaker of the House, but John Bankhead was the brother. Rather crooked people, too.
JOHN EGERTON:
And which one was Tallulah's father?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Bill Bankhead. Tallulah and Eugenia.
JOHN EGERTON:
And he was the Speaker of the House?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes. And they used to always say, "You can always tell Eugenia and Tallulah apart. Eugenia is the one that marries and Tallulah doesn't." [Laughter] Eugenia married five or six times.
JOHN EGERTON:
So John Bankhead was a senator, and Hugo was a senator, and Hugo went to the Supreme Court, and Lister Hill was. . . .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
And that's just as much as I remember. You know, you ought to check.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah, I will.
[interruption]
So the report came out, the pamphlet, about the number one economic condition in the summer of '38. Was it already determined at that time, had the Southern Conference for Human Welfare actually been organized by then?

Page 8
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
We organized it at the meeting in Birmingham. Frank Graham was elected president.
JOHN EGERTON:
And that was the first time that anybody had ever come together?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah.
JOHN EGERTON:
Who planned all that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I just told you, Mrs. Roosevelt and Lucy Randolph and Joe Gelders, and the president of the United States.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah, but, I mean, those are the people who had the big idea. I mean, who were the people who made all those plans.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, Joe Gelders was one. He was right there, and Miss Lucy. But I think that largely it was supported by the Miner's Union and Bill Mitch.
JOHN EGERTON:
The CIO and all of that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah. Because, you see, the unions were just coming south, if you remember, and they were being fought pretty hard. And John L. Lewis was extremely generous as far as helping was concerned, any way he could. And Bill Mitch is dead now, but he was very active and very supportive. And another person that was very active was Myles Horton, who just died.
JOHN EGERTON:
Right. He was there, wasn't it, that November?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, and he was very active. And Maury Maverick was there. He got to be the head of the anti-poll tax committee.
JOHN EGERTON:
I went to that auditorium not long ago. You know, it's still there just exactly like it was then. The building's been remodeled and all that, but you can walk inside there and it looks exactly like it must have looked right then. That long

Page 9
center aisle that comes right up from the street level. You go down some steps, and right down the center of the thing to the stage. They must have had seats down on the floor, did they not?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, there were black on one side and white on the other. That's the main thing I remember. Sunday night, as you walked in, and Frank Graham made the first speech, it was integrated. It was mixed on both sides. The next morning, as we came in, it was segregated, and they had police all around.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was Bull Conner there?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you know who he was at that time? Was he a notorious figure then, as he came to be later?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, he was just police. But we realized that we were surrounded by the police, and they got up and they said, you know, if anybody crossed the aisle that they would be taken to jail, and they had the black mariahs outside waiting for us.
JOHN EGERTON:
That was the name that they gave to their secret police?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, black mariahs were the police vans to take you to jail, the vehicles. I don't know why they called them black mariahs. And that was when Mrs. Roosevelt took the chair and put it in the middle of the aisle, you know.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you remember that? You have a vivid mental picture of her doing that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes. She just took an old folding chair and just plunked it right in the middle of the aisle.
JOHN EGERTON:
And sat down there.

Page 10
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
And nobody dared to arrest her either. She was a remarkable woman.
JOHN EGERTON:
Miss Modjeska Simkins told me, when I talked to her up at Birmingham when they had the homecoming reunion group, she had a recollection that—let me see if I can find it here. She was not at that meeting, so this is hearsay, and I'm a little skeptical of this, but this is what she said. "Mrs. Roosevelt asked for some chalk and a ruler, and that she marked the midline in the line, and sat her chair right astraddle the line."
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I don't remember that. She just put the chair there. She didn't mark it. The thing was that she was daring them to arrest her, and they didn't arrest her. See, there were police all around the meeting hall.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you have a picture in your mind of that meeting hall itself?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Very vivid, it was a long time ago, but I can remember. The thing about it was that Sunday night had been extremely pleasant. Frank Graham had made a very fine speech. It had been unsegregated. It was about the first unsegregated meeting I'd ever been to in the South. Then the next morning, we walked in, we were surrounded by police, and the black mariahs were all around the building, and we were told that if broke the segregation law in any way, shape, or form, we'd be taken to jail. They announced that from the podium. So that changed the whole atmosphere, and the atmosphere after that got very tense. It meant that there was segregation, and the people could go up on the platform. Like Mrs. Bethune could go up on the platform,

Page 11
and they couldn't segregate her from the white people on the platform. She was glad to say what she had to say. She had plenty to say, too.
JOHN EGERTON:
You said in your book, I'm quoting you, "This meeting was full of love and hope. It was thrilling. The whole South seemed to be coming together to make a new day."
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That was Sunday night.
JOHN EGERTON:
Most have been an exhilarating feeling to see that.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
It really was because, the thing was, that there were just so many people there that you knew and loved.
JOHN EGERTON:
And then besides that, there were all those people you didn't even know, and they were obviously a part of that movement. Did it give you a sense of real hope about the South being able to work out its own problems.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
It certainly did. I can just remember feeling a sense of real exaltation. But I don't think it lasted all the way through because, let's see, Mrs. Roosevelt spoke that night and then Hugo spoke. After Mrs. Roosevelt spoke and after Hugo spoke, the papers came out with just the vicious lot of, you know, lies.
JOHN EGERTON:
You don't by any chance, still have any papers from that period, do you? Like, for example, a copy of the program or the proceedings or anything.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, I wish I did have but I don't.
JOHN EGERTON:
Let me mention some names to you. I'd like it you would—obviously some of these are going to be people who were not there, and you can just say as far as you know they were not

Page 12
there, or you don't have any recollection. But if I call a name of somebody who you remember as being involved, just tell me what you remember about what role they played. You mentioned Frank McAllister.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I just couldn't stand him because he began to red-bait almost immediately. He was a socialist. And there was another fellow whose name I can't remember, also a socialist, but they began to red-bait almost from the first day. I didn't know who they were from Adam's house cat, and he asked me if I would let them drive me home. See, my mother and father lived in Birmingham. So they did drive me home, and all the way home he was asking me did I realize that the whole thing was a communist plot and, you know, the people were communist. Well, I disliked him immediately. I never have gotten over disliking him. I don't know whether he's even dead or alive now, but I just remember after the feeling I had had of such a beautiful sort of love-feast, and to have that start so soon.
JOHN EGERTON:
And that was just one of the little internal splits that eventually came out.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, the socialists hated the communists and vice versa. If they ever got together, it was always bound to be a fight.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about H. L. Mitchell, was he there?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, he was a darling man. He just died recently. His wife still lives here in Montgomery. I called her up just the other day, poor thing, she's so lonely now that he's dead.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was he there at the meeting?

Page 13
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I can't remember if he was there at the meeting or not. He was a socialist, but he wasn't the kind who was always redbaiting, but he was an actual socialist and believed it very firmly.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about Howard Kester?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I never knew him very well. He was with the church group.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was he at that meeting?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
If I recollect right, he was.
JOHN EGERTON:
And you said Myles Horton was there. An Aubrey Williams was there. Tell me about Aubrey Williams, what recollection you have of his role in that particular thing?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He red-baited some himself at the time. He made sort of a joke of it, as I recall.
JOHN EGERTON:
He was a rather humorous fellow?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Very funny.
JOHN EGERTON:
Good sense of humor. Clark Foreman, of course, was there and took an active role?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Very active role. Indeed, he later got to be head of it. He came from a very aristocratic, rich family in Atlanta. I never thought he was myself, I'd known him a long, long time, but some people did think that he was sort of arrogant and rich. He really wasn't rich. He was a little arrogant maybe.
JOHN EGERTON:
Will Alexander?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, I knew him well. I think he was at that meeting, but I remember in Washington, he was a very nice man. He had some sort of an organization in Atlanta for a long time.

Page 14
JOHN EGERTON:
The Council on Interracial Cooperation.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Then he and his wife split up and took up with another girl, and that was a kind of scandal in Washington in those days [Laughter] .
JOHN EGERTON:
Willis Weatherford? You don't remember him. Virginius Dabney?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, I knew him well too, but not terribly. See, I lived in Virginia, you know, and Virginia Episcopal Theological Seminary. Virginius Dabney, we were always trying to get to support the anti-poll tax movement. He never would. So he and I had many a conversation, not a conversation but written, but he never would.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did he come to that meeting in Birmingham? You think he was not there?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, he was not there.
JOHN EGERTON:
Jonathan Daniels?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, Jonathan Daniels and Ralph McGill and Hodding Carter weren't there.
JOHN EGERTON:
None of these journalists came to this?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, no, they didn't. Not only didn't they come, but unfortunately for the Southern Conference, they did a good deal of red-baiting, too.
JOHN EGERTON:
All of them?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, yeah, I'd say they all. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
Jane and Dolly Speed?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, that's the two communists. They came from Montgomery. They were of the Baldwin family which is one of the

Page 15
old, wealthy families here in Montgomery. And Dolly took Jane [her daughter] to Vienna because it was cheaper to live in Vienna in those days, and her husband had died. She came from Louisville where there was this Speed Museum.
JOHN EGERTON:
Big, important family in Louisville.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, anyway, they may have been big and important but they were poor as job's turkey. So she took them, her boy and her daughter, to Vienna to educate them. And while they were in Vienna, the Nazis came, and Jane got to be a communist. So did Dolly. Then when things that dangerous, they came back here to Montgomery to Mrs. Reed, her sister, who had a lovely place here.
JOHN EGERTON:
They were not married, either of them?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, Dolly was kind of elderly to get married, and Jane got married to, I think he came from Puerto Rico or someplace.
JOHN EGERTON:
And Rob Hall ended up driving a Cadillac, married to a rich woman. He was the communist leader of Alabama at that time.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's right. He ended up marrying again and having two children. Two boys, one went to Andover and one went to Exeter, I think. He had a Cadillac, and he had nothing further to do with communist, you know, radical Maoist.
JOHN EGERTON:
Howard Lee?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, Howard Lee was a sweet boy. He came from Arkansas, and he was a real kind of a country boy. He had a passion for Mrs. Roosevelt. He used to keep her mirror by his bed, and he just loved her dearly. As I recall, he committed

Page 16
suicide, but nobody ever can remember, knew why he committed suicide.
JOHN EGERTON:
Alton Lawrence?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Alton was a lovely boy, young. He went to the University of North Carolina, and he was very radical in a way, I suppose. He married a girl who worked in the mill. When we were called down to New Orleans—Jim Eastland, you know, Clark Foreman, and me, and Aubrey Williams—he never was called down. We thought that was very strange, and I think he became an informer. I hate to say that, that he saved himself from going. And he told me it was because his wife couldn't take it. Now, whether he actually informed or just refused to—I just know he disappeared off the face of the earth. I haven't seen him since.
JOHN EGERTON:
Mrs. Bethune?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, Mrs. Bethune was just like a great, you know, African lioness. She was a very large, stout woman who had tremendous amount of strength. She's the one that—I was working in the democratic committee, the women's division, and we were all working on getting rid of the poll tax because the women had a hard time voting. You see, the men didn't pay their poll tax, and they didn't have much money. So she said we had to get together with the blacks. So she got us together with people like Charlie Houston and Bill Hastie. Then Jim Farley said we couldn't do it in the democratic committee because it was making the southerners so mad. So we had to get out and do it outside the committee, I mean, fight against the poll tax.

Page 17
JOHN EGERTON:
One anecdote you tell in the book is that Judge Charlton who was presiding spoke to Mary Bethune and said, "Mary, would you like to come to the platform?" And she wouldn't come until they called her Mrs. Bethune.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's absolutely true. She was not Mary. She was Mrs. Bethune.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about Louise Charlton? What was she like?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
She was a very nice, able woman. Somehow, she just disappeared after, never saw her again after that meeting.
JOHN EGERTON:
What kind of judge was she?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I think she was kind of a. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
Municipal judge or something here locally, I mean in Birmingham?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Some sort of a. . . . After that meeting, I never saw her again.
JOHN EGERTON:
Maury Maverick was there?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Maury was there, and he was wonderful. He always was terrific. He's the one that introduced the bill to get the poll tax. That was the first thing we did, you see.
JOHN EGERTON:
John L. Lewis come to that meeting?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No. Bill Mitch was there.
JOHN EGERTON:
Claude Pepper was there, wasn't he?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No.
JOHN EGERTON:
You don't think so? I know he came to some of the later ones. In fact, he was given the Jefferson Award at the last one of those meetings.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He didn't come to the one in Birmingham, as I recall.

Page 18
JOHN EGERTON:
Of course, Hugo Black was there.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Hugo was the main one, and Mrs. Roosevelt.
JOHN EGERTON:
Lister Hill there? Any other office holders? The governor of Alabama came, Bibb Graves.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I don't remember him.
JOHN EGERTON:
Some place I read that his wife was the one who took all the ladies around for a tour of the city. It was like a social event or something.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I think that's wrong. I never remember that. Yeah, I think that's wrong, and I don't think Bibb Graves came. You've got to remember that, I told you about the love and affection and the feeling of thrill on the first night. By the second day when they'd begun to threaten us with police and all, the papers had also begun to be very hostile.
JOHN EGERTON:
John Temple Graves ironically ended up introducing Hugo Black, because the person who was supposed to was ill. And John Temple Graves, who at that time was saying all kinds of nice things about all this, even in the paper he did, but later one he wouldn't touch them with a ten foot pole.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, not only that, he wanted to clear himself of any kind of [Laughter] dealing.
JOHN EGERTON:
Mark Ethridge? Barry Bingham?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Not that I remember. Now, I may be mistaken about that because I don't remember their being there. Now, I can remember them as being in Chattanooga because they were trying very hard [interruption]

Page 19
Atlanta—the United Mine Workers, at that time, was very anti-war. In other words, they were against the war entirely. Well, you know, the president was for the war. So he was very much against the coal people. So Barry came down, and they were trying to keep the convention from passing a declaration against the war. You see, also at that time the communists, such as they were, were also against the war. It was during the period of the German war. So Barry and Mark were down there, for the President of the United States, trying their damnest to keep this organization from passing a resolution for peace and against war.
JOHN EGERTON:
I see.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I can remember fighting for that, 'cause they did. The reason, it seems to me, the president was so much more engaged in it than people have ever given him any credit—maybe he didn't want to be known that he was engaged in it—was, as far as he was concerned, all he had [Laughter] . He didn't have anything else to depend on.
JOHN EGERTON:
I've been reading some of John Temple Graves' newspapers and other people's papers from right around that time.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
They were out to get us.
JOHN EGERTON:
But they weren't then. What went in the newspaper during that immediate time was essentially. . . .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
They changed later.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah, I know. But I'm talking about that week. I'm talking about all these fifteen hundred people who came down there, and aside from the police and that one incident about segregation, it was a very favorable beginning.

Page 20
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, that's true. It was. But then they turned later. [Laughter] .
JOHN EGERTON:
Then everybody eventually fell away 'til the point where, if you go all the way up to 1950 and look, most of the people who were in that room wouldn't identify with that movement, with integration or any kind of racial thing.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
It was red-baiting again. Terrible threat of it and being caught up in it.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you think or do you think now as you think back on it that the Southern Conference for Human Welfare in the beginning had an interest in eliminating segregation?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Very much so.
JOHN EGERTON:
It didn't come out much in what was said there. There was not much talk about doing away with the institution of segregation. I mean, people came at it from different ways. They talked about the poll tax as being discrimination against white and black alike. They talked about the lynching laws such being a meanness that ought to be done away with. They talked about the white primary as being unfair. That everybody ought to have the right to vote. All that, you know, people understood, but none of that had to do with the institution of segregation, with segregated stores and restaurants and schools and churches and all that kind of business.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, maybe it was understood rather then enunciated, but I can't think of anybody there that didn't think that segregation was a terrible evil. The fact that Mrs. Roosevelt

Page 21
made such a point of refusing to accept it showed how we felt, I think. Because she made such a drastic point.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah. I was struck, reading about the Southern Regional Council later on in the '40s, when the Council was formed in 1944 and all the way up until almost the time of the Brown decision in '54, there official position was not to eliminate segregation but to make separate equal. They put all their emphasis on spending the money to upgrade the Negro schools.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
They did that, and not only that, they were anticommunist because they, Aubrey Williams, they wouldn't let him be on the Council. He was proposed for it, and they put him on it, and then he was thrown off. So then they asked Cliff, my husband, to be on. He said he wouldn't be on as long as they wouldn't let Aubrey on.
JOHN EGERTON:
So your recollection of the Southern Regional Council in the '40s was that it was a little bit to the right of where your thinking was?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, it was indeed. Nice people, but very much to the right. Because they didn't believe in, they didn't fight for integration, and then they had this—which I thought was the silly fear of communists taking over. It's turned out to be pretty silly.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah, look what's happening now.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I mean, not only wouldn't they very well take us over, I mean, in the war, but hadn't got enough food to put on the table.

Page 22
JOHN EGERTON:
What about Lillian Smith, was she at that meeting?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh no, oh, she probably was at that meeting. She was a very lovely person in many ways, I thought, but she had a passion, not a passion, really—she never had a passion for anybody except what's her name, the lady she lived with—but she was very devoted to this Frank McAllister. He had a tremendous influence on her. She got out of the Southern Conference on account of him.
JOHN EGERTON:
Is that right?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, she just frankly got out. She said that Frank had gotten out, and she got out. Frank did as much harm as anybody . . . .
END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A

Page 23
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
The whole thing was so ridiculous [Laughter] .
JOHN EGERTON:
But your recollection is that McAllister was not from the South.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No. The last time I heard of him teaching was in college up in Chicago.
JOHN EGERTON:
John Temple Graves, according to my reading on this, was co-chairman of the Race Relations Committee for this conference. He and F. D. Patterson, who was the president of Tuskegee, were the co-chairs of the committee that met during that week.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, he certainly introduced Hugo very nicely, I'll say that.
JOHN EGERTON:
Dowbrowski was there, wasn't he?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, he was there.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was he chosen at that meeting to be the executive secretary of this.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No.
JOHN EGERTON:
That came later.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That was later. I think Lee and Alton Lawrence, either one or both of them, were—I think it was Howard Lee. He got to be the executive secretary.
JOHN EGERTON:
H. C. Nixon was there?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh yes, and he was wonderful. Now, you talk about who ran it, you might say that he ran it more than anybody, if it got run. He wrote a wonderful book, you know, about the rural piedmont. He was a lovely man. He was at Vanderbilt, I think.

Page 24
He was extremely pleasant, delightful and charming man, but he got scared later on, and his wife just made him get out because she was just afraid on account of the children. Wouldn't have anything to live on. But he didn't red-bait and he didn't say anything wrong about us. He just got out.
JOHN EGERTON:
Gunnar Myrdal was there.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
If he was there, I never met him.
JOHN EGERTON:
According to the book, what's that man's name who wrote a book about the Southern Conference, he said that Myrdal was there researching the book that he subsequently published, the famous book on the American dilemma.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I never. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
Charles S. Johnson, the president of Fisk?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I knew him, only in a pleasant way.
JOHN EGERTON:
And Rufus Clement who was the president of Atlanta University?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah, they were there. I knew all these people but, you know, I didn't know them extremely well. See, we had a very tight little group of people that became dear and darling friends and remained so until most of them died.
JOHN EGERTON:
Who would you name in that group?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, Clark Foreman and Tex Goldschmidt and Cliff, my husband, and me, and Mary Foreman, Clark Foreman's wife, and Ricky Goldschmidt, who was Tex's wife, and then there was Aubrey Williams and his wife Anita. Let' see, and actually there was Lyndon and LadyBird.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was this back in Washington then?

Page 25
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, this is back in Washington.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about those people like Jonathan Daniels, many of those? Did you all socialize with them?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Not at all. It was a completely different group. Then there was that man who was a great friend of Lyndon's, Caro's been writing about him in his book so much. He says about we were all such a close group. He named two or three people who were not in it, were wrong. Then, of course, Abe Fortas was there, right closely associated. We just had supper together often, 'cause we were great friends. I wouldn't say Lyndon and LadyBird were, yeah, they were a part of it.
JOHN EGERTON:
You went back to Washington, of course, after that meeting. How long did you live in Washington then? I can't recall when you all moved to Montgomery.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I moved to Washington in 1933. Hugo was in the Senate. Hugo got him [Cliff] to come up there to help open the banks. He was with the Power Company law firm then, and they were having a pretty tough time [Laughter] with that. So he went there. He thought he'd stay about two or three months, and we stayed twenty years.
JOHN EGERTON:
So you all left there when?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
'51.
JOHN EGERTON:
Oh, you stayed until '51. That's when you moved back here to Montgomery.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
So we stayed in Washington all that time. Then, you see, he went from the RFC to the Communications Commission.

Page 26
JOHN EGERTON:
Let me mention another period of time, now that I know you were still living in Washington, I wonder about some thoughts you would have on this. [interruption]
In the spring of 1950, now, I want to give you a few things to kind of jog your memory. That was the year that Claude Pepper was defeated in the Florida primary by George Smathers.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Nasty son-of-a-bitch [Laughter] . That was the vilest thing I ever saw in my life.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah. That same spring, almost within a month of that date, Frank Graham got beat. James F. Byrnes got elected governor of South Carolina, a genteel racist. He was a boiler-plate racist, down to the marrow of his bone.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's right.
JOHN EGERTON:
He went to the governor's office as a bitter enemy and foe of Harry Truman. I'm thinking of that summer and subsequently the election in the fall, the Korean War had started. The Dies Committee was going full blast, and the Senate's Internal Security Committee was getting into it. The whole red thing was getting completely out of hand, and there were court cases. . . .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
You see, Clifford was resigning then. He was reappointed in 1948 by Truman, and he refused to accept the appointment on account of the loyalty oath. He said he would have to administer the loyalty oath, and he thought it was wrong and bad and unconstitutional. So he rescinded. I mean, he didn't rescind, he just refused to take appointment. Then during that year, 1948-49-50, he practiced law in Washington. There

Page 27
were a whole lot of people who were in trouble. The trouble was that they never paid him anything. So that's when we decided to come back to Montgomery.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, I guess the question I'm trying to lead up to is, it strikes me as a sort of courageous thing for you all to come back South at that point. This wasn't a very safe place for people to be with the kinds of attitudes that you all had.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
We didn't have any place to go. You see, Cliff had had a very severe bone operation on his back. So he had to come home 'cause it's the only place—his mother told him to come home until he got well. So there was nothing for us to do but come home. We had no place to go. I mean, we had a nice house, but we couldn't pay it.
JOHN EGERTON:
You couldn't make a living up there.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No. So we came home, and it was a year or more before he could even practice at all. We weren't courageous about doing it. It was just having to. We knew it was bad, and then we knew when he took those first cases, he knew it was going to be bad. But he took them just the same. Then, you see, when Mrs. Parks came on, he went down and got her out of jail, although the NAACP had to handle the case.
JOHN EGERTON:
Had she been up to Highlander before that or after that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah, I got her up there before that. If you read the old lady from Charleston who was such a remarkable woman, she says in her book that Mrs. Durr got Mrs. Parks to Highlander, and

Page 28
I did. I was the one who told Myles to invite her up. Then Aubrey Williams gave her the money to go on.
JOHN EGERTON:
That was before 1955, wasn't it?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes.
JOHN EGERTON:
So this whole idea of Mrs. Parks, who's finally getting tired and sitting down and denying those people, that wasn't really true, was it? I mean, she knew what she was doing.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
She knew what she was doing, and after having a visit to Highlander, she realized how it was worse than ever. She just couldn't stand it any more, you know, being made to stand up for a white man. But it was tough. I would have left, but Cliff wouldn't leave. So, of course, I wouldn't leave. But you see, I still don't think the South is any nest of [Laughter] —I think it's still racist. I don't know how long it's going to be before it's not racist.
JOHN EGERTON:
You and I aren't going to live to see the day.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, I don't believe we'll ever see that day. You know, I'm making the best of it now, a lot of people I like and all, good friends. But as far as the South actually becoming a [Laughter] place of equality, I don't see it at all.
JOHN EGERTON:
Again, just to linger for a minute on that period around 1950, as I look back on that, it seems to me like that was a low point in a way. After those election defeats and the rise of the anti-communist stuff and the growing agitation among the white power structure in the South against any kind of racial change, it just seemed to me like things, from 1950 until '54-'55, was just sort of like a quiet period where nobody did much.

Page 29
And it took the court action and the people going in the street and marching to bring about the social change that we got.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, absolutely. There's no doubt about it. The thing is that the combination of the fact that Mrs. Parks refused to stand up, that was the sort of trigger point. But the thing that made it so amazing was that Dr. King would have come along at exactly the same time. So here you have a man who speaks with the tongues of men and of angels or whatever. Just a marvelous orator. And he can stir people up the way he stirred them up. Perfectly remarkable.
JOHN EGERTON:
What time in '51, what time of year, did you all come here? [interruption]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
[inaudible]
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah, that happened to a lot of people.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
[inaudible]
JOHN EGERTON:
They never even knew anything was going on.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, you see, when we got down here in '51, Cliff went right to bed.
JOHN EGERTON:
What month of the year was that?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
It was in the summer. I think it was in June or July. He had to go right to bed. Then he had a doctor in Birmingham who was his doctor. So he stayed up with his sister in Birmingham. He stayed up there for about three or four months. Then when he came back down here, he had to swim every day. I was taking shorthand and typewriting. Finally got a job.
JOHN EGERTON:
Where did you work?

Page 30
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I worked at the insurance office of the state. We were living in my mother's house which wasn't very far. She had a great, big old house and two servants. So the children at least had, I had three children [inaudible]. I was lucky, but it was a bad time because there was nobody in Montgomery at all that we could talk to that had any interest in anything we were interested in except Aubrey Williams, [inaudible].
JOHN EGERTON:
So did you see a lot of him during this time?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, constantly, every day. After the Jim Eastland thing, you know, and being threatened, with Wallace being put in jail too, and he went on off back to Washington.
JOHN EGERTON:
He's dead.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He was dying, well, he was dying of cancer of then.
JOHN EGERTON:
Is his wife still living?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, she's dead too.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did they have children?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh yes, Maury, Winston, Jerry, and—had four boys. There's a very good book that Mr. Salmond wrote. You haven't seen that? Well, you ought to get it. It's John Salmond. He's from Australia and he's just finished a book on my husband. It's coming out by the University of Alabama Press. You see, the thing you've got to realize from our point of view was, in the first place, none of us were communists, and we thought the whole thing [Laughter] was absolutely insane. And the whole communist fear was insane.
JOHN EGERTON:
It was a diversion. It had nothing to do with the real issues.

Page 31
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Had nothing to do with the real issues, but more than that, it was so idiotic. Cliff had been over there twice. Had been sent by the government, once for communications and once for something else. And he came back and he said they don't have enough fuel. They couldn't any more defeat us than, it's impossible.
JOHN EGERTON:
If you think of the years 1951, from the summer of '51 until the summer of '54, can you think of any involvements that you had that were active in these social issues, or was that pretty much a quiet time for you?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, the thing was that's the time I got Mrs. Parks up to visit Highlander. Cliff, when he started his law practice, he immediately became active in police brutality. These men would come in with him and pull up their shirts, and you could see where the welts were. He was busy with that. Now, he never won any cases, but he got a lot of publicity for these, which they didn't like. But I had three children and I was working and had a job, life seemed so busy to me that I can't think of any particular. . . . The only thing I can think of in that period was the terrific red-baiting.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah, right. It just got worse and worse, didn't it?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah, just got worse, worse, worse. It spread and spread and spread. George Wallace took it up.
JOHN EGERTON:
Do you think there was a deliberate, conscious, intentional seizing of that issue, the red-baiting issue, by the segregationists and the racists of the South in order to cloud the issue of social change?

Page 32
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I don't think there's any doubt about it.
JOHN EGERTON:
I mean, obviously there was a parallel. It was a coincidental thing to the very least. But I wonder if you think that people like George Wallace and Eastland and Talmadge in Georgia and these people seized upon the anti-communist thing as a way to disarm the people who were trying to get. . . .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, I don't think there's any doubt about it. It was so plain to be seen. Jim Eastland was running for Senate, and the Brown decision was about to come down. Okay, so what does he do? He finds me out, who is Hugo Black's sister-in-law, then his son, young Hugo, who was working up in Birmingham. Then he gets hold of Aubrey Williams and Myles Horton and holds this hearing about the communist danger. That the Brown decision will prove that the Supreme Court is a communist outfit. So you see, they just use it all the time. Use it constantly. Dirty time. [interruption]
JOHN EGERTON:
Run my theory by you, Mrs. Durr, and see if you think this holds any water. In 1945 there was so much change in the wind all over the world as a consequence of the war, the end of the war, the atomic bomb, new technology, television was just coming into its own, air conditioning had just arrived in most people's houses and was coming to their cars—the whole society was being changed. Airplanes, jet airplanes, I think in 1944 they had something like seventeen flights a day out of the Atlanta airport. That's all. Now they have seventeen a minute. I mean, all of this stuff was just right on the lip of change. It was just about to happen. Meantime, all these men had been

Page 33
out of the South, had gone overseas, had been in new situations where they saw people living in different ways. Women had been working in the factories and working government jobs. Nothing was like it had been before. Everything was going to change. And it seems now, as I look back on that period of the last five years of the forties, that it was a golden opportunity for the South to make a lot of social change, in terms of race and class and economic conditions of people and whatnot, voluntarily. To decide that the time was right and to go ahead and do that, but it didn't do it. It shrank away from doing that. The politicians prevailed, the governors and senators and congressmen prevailed, against the president of the United States even, and prevented social change of that kind from taking place. And so as a consequence of our failure to do it voluntarily, then we came up on the twenty-five year period that began in 1954 with the Brown decision and that, indeed, goes on to this very day of unsettled, incomplete social change that people still are not in agreement about. So I'm looking at that little five year period as what our former President Reagan called a window of opportunity, a little hinge of history, when things change from an old way that looks essentially backward to a new way that looks forward. And in both directions the view is rather frightening. Right there in the middle, there was a chance for people to say—in other words, it was the last opportunity for the South to fix its own social wagon, and it chose not to do it and as a consequence, we're still mired in this problem. Does that make sense to you?

Page 34
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, it certainly does make sense to me because I certainly think we're mired in the same problems. Would you like a glass of wine?
JOHN EGERTON:
Yes, I would. If I wrote a book that essentially said that. . . . [interruption]
I'm working on, and I'm looking for people to talk to who can identify with that notion. That it was an opportunity lost. And you all were trying. You were trying your dead-level best to get people to move along on that issue, but it just wasn't going to happen. There were too many powerful people who were so immersed in the culture of segregation and racial inequity that they couldn't give that up.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah, but I also think that red-baiting had a lot to do with it.
JOHN EGERTON:
But as you pointed out though, it was segregationists, it was racists, who seized on the red issue to work to their own ends.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's absolutely true.
JOHN EGERTON:
So it all kind of worked together.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
But the thing that bothers me today is—here is this great, big festivity for Mrs. Parks. There were only a very few white people there, just a handful. All the rest of them were black. [interruption - talking in background, someone else enters. Extraneous aside for a few minutes]
JOHN EGERTON:
Let me ask you a little bit more about that auditorium. It's like a horseshoe and there are seats all up, like in the balcony, all the way around, and then there are the people down

Page 35
on the floor. When Mrs. Roosevelt spoke, the paper said there were seven thousand people there. That would fill the whole thing up, including the balcony and everything. Do you remember that place as being full?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I do, indeed. It was full for her, and it was almost as full for Hugo.
JOHN EGERTON:
What about on that Sunday night when you started?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, no, when we started, it wasn't that full.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was everybody down on the floor, not up in the balconies?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Everybody was on the floor. And there was a lot of kissing and hugging, glad to see you.
JOHN EGERTON:
And also singing. It was kind of like a big camp meeting almost?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yeah. And then Frank got up and made just a wonderful speech, Frank Graham.
JOHN EGERTON:
He must have been quite a fine man.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
He was. A wonderful man. And he got beat just the way Claude Pepper got beat, by red-baiting. Absolutely insanely ridiculous. They both got beat. Frank, with him particularly, it was just so absolutely insane.
JOHN EGERTON:
Something else about that auditorium that struck me, during the days of segregation they had entrances on the side, outside the building, on both sides, and the black people had to go in those doors and up the stairs and sit in the balcony for like some kind of show or anything like that. They sat up there in the crow's nest.

Page 36
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, I don't remember that at the Southern Conference Meeting. I remember so distinctly the division.
JOHN EGERTON:
So I'm thinking, they must have come in the front door, though, just like everybody else did.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I think they must have too.
JOHN EGERTON:
Particularly that first night when everybody was together on the floor.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, it was a great beginning. Then you see the next meeting was in Chattanooga, and then the next meeting was at Nashville. Now, Nashville, I remember, this was one of the dirtier things they did. Mrs. Roosevelt came down with Paul Robeson and he was going to sing. So it was all kind of nasty, disgusting, you know, the rumors about her and Robeson. Rumors, I don't know how it got around, but it did.
JOHN EGERTON:
She was a very courageous lady, wasn't she?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
She certainly was courageous. She was a very brave woman, but she was a woman who was unhappy. She'd had some sort of feeling of—it's hard to express—you should read the book of her daughter. Sex was something terrible to her. Naturally then for her husband to have gone off with another woman as he did, was a terrible blow to her.
JOHN EGERTON:
She was an unhappy person in her private life.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I think she was an unhappy person in her private life, not her public life, but her private life. She was brought up like a victorian maiden of some kind. Mr. Roosevelt was not a Victorian that way at all.
JOHN EGERTON:
As, alas, most men are not. Never have been.

Page 37
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
[Laughter] Never will be. I do feel though, in her case, it was a very sad that she would adore a man as she did, you know. Really worshiped him and feel just a sense of love as she did for him, and then have him reject her. But I think she felt rejected.
JOHN EGERTON:
Let me ask you something else, Mrs. Durr. With a few exceptions, the people who were the most active in the Southern Conference for Human Welfare were white, middle and upper class southerners, most of them, not all. I don't guess H.L. Mitchell [Laughter] had a lot of money any time or his family background was, but you take Joe Gelders who was from a wealthy Jewish family and Clark Foreman from a wealthy family. Your family was not wealthy and, in fact, there were times when you all had considerable poverty, but you were an upper class family by my understanding, and I think yours, of what that means.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
What it means [Laughter] was that you were rich at one time.
JOHN EGERTON:
That's right. It was out of a southern tradition of noblesse oblisse or patrician feelings. All of you had come out of a cultural experience that tried to rise above the meanness of segregation. And you all were idealistic people, trying to improve the world. But it was essentially an upper middle class, white effort, wasn't it, by and large?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, it certainly was, no doubt about it. On the other hand, the person who really did the most to change the South was Lyndon Johnson, which was the vote and the federal thing. Lyndon wasn't upper class at all. Country boy, grown up

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in the hills. And I don't think he had though very much about segregation. I think that Bird maybe might have influenced him some, but I don't think he thought about race at all. Because, you see, he lived up there where there wasn't. . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
But he ended up being the one who did the most.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's right. He ended up being the one who did the most. I always thought Bird helped him. She never talked about it, but I always thought she did.
JOHN EGERTON:
You know, I had a notion one time, I got to thinking. .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
You ought to go and see her.
JOHN EGERTON:
I'd like to, yeah, that's a good idea. I got to thinking one time that if you had elected the wives of all the presidents we elected instead of men, we'd have had a lot better country.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That may be true. On the other hand, Lyndon did what he did, and how he did it I'll never know, you know, to get that bill through. I just don't know how he did it. He was a good politician. I always say he made a mistake on the Vietnamese War. But if you ever have a chance, if she'll talk to you, of course, she's very. . . . But she'll defend her husband. I think it would be interesting to know from her what he thought about the race situation.
JOHN EGERTON:
In this period of time, the '40s.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Because, after all, he was the one who changed it by passing the law, you know. And then not only that, he said when he passed the law, this is going to be the end of this [Laughter] Democratic Party.

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JOHN EGERTON:
Harry Truman is a puzzling figure to me. You know, he was the one who instigated a lot of this stuff, even more than Roosevelt in some ways. Like dropping the race barriers in the Armed Forces and then that Civil Rights Committee that he formed in the '40s. And yet, I can't find any clue at all in reading books about him that he really cared about this one way or the other. He didn't have any strong feelings about the racial thing.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, not only that, he was the one that did all the red-baiting. I think he did a great harm. I never had many kind feelings toward Harry Truman because my husband tried so many of these cases where these people were absolutely ruined and thrown out, and had actually done nothing whatever. He had a woman, I'll never forget, a black woman, they said she was a communist. Found out she had gone to George Washington University and was taking a course in culture or something.
JOHN EGERTON:
Some inanity.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's right. They said she was a communist. Then it turned out that these two white women, old white rabbits, were after her because she was above them, and they thought it was terrible for white women to be bossed by a black woman. They were just out to get her. And when it came down, you know, the finger was put on them and they were discovered to be the ones who were doing all this dirty work. Oh, they cried, and they said they promised. Everybody had said they'd be protected. But it was so much dirty work going on.
JOHN EGERTON:
It was a mean spirited time.

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VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Really mean spirited.
JOHN EGERTON:
You knew Aubrey William really well?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Very well.
JOHN EGERTON:
That man wasn't a communist, was he? I mean, that's ludicrous, isn't it, to think that he would have been?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
[inaudible]
JOHN EGERTON:
And Clark Foreman? That's just a big laugh. He couldn't have been communist.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Clark Foreman wasn't.
JOHN EGERTON:
And I've known Myles Horton, I knew Myles Horton for the last twenty-five years, and I would absolutely bet my last dime that man was never a communist, not even in spirit, let alone. . . .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, it was so stupid.
JOHN EGERTON:
There weren't any damn communists in the South that I could tell, except here and there, you know, a little fringe group of people.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
The thing is for Myles and Aubrey, being called a communist was absurd. But they were. There's no doubt of it. They certainly were. And Myles, not that he's died, I've been reading the obituaries and even the New York Times has given him an obituary. But when I think of all the times I used to go up there.
JOHN EGERTON:
Oh yeah, he was—I wrote a long piece once about the trial of Highlander, put him on trial, you know. And it was the communist thing and the racial things all wrapped up, but all they could find to really nail with was that they had a little

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beer. And they stuck him for sending beer without a license. Took away the charter. Took all their property out in the middle of a field and had an auction. Sold every last stick of furniture.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Burned down the building.
JOHN EGERTON:
Just an absolute disgrace.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
I wish you'd stay and have supper with us.
JOHN EGERTON:
Well, I appreciate it very much.
END OF INTERVIEW