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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Learning racial etiquette through fighting

When Durr's nurse leaves her family suddenly, Durr is traumatized. She believes her relationship with strong black women such as her nurse and later Mary McLeod Bethune helped lead her into her later interracial activism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

And the whole family thought that I was just the most vicious child in the whole world. I had said, "Goddamn," and thrown a knife at my cousin. I don't think that they thought about my taking up for Sarah, it was my action toward my cousin. Well, bless God if they didn't all start after me again at the dinner table. "Annie, you've got the worst child that I've ever known, you've got to do something about her." Well, I got mad again and threw a glass of water at my cousin or my aunt, I don't know which. I had another tantrum and I was banished. I went on the back porch again, crying and sat in Nursey's lap and I could hear, it was right outside the dining room door and I heard my aunt say, "Annie, you've got to do something about that child." This was my Aunt May, the fashionable New Yorker, "She is the worst child that I have ever known in my life." She said, "Now, I do think that you have got to do something about that nurse of hers that spoils her so badly. She kisses and hugs that woman all the time. And you know, all those black women have disease and you don't know what she'll catch." Here I was sitting in Nursey's lap and of course, Nursey heard all of this. My mother didn't take up for Nursey but she took up for me. She did try to take up for her daughter, but she didn't try to take up for her nurse and neither did my grandmother. You see, the nurse had been coming down there for seven years of my life and spending almost every summer and they knew her and they knew what a good woman she was and knew how kind she had been to us and what a faithful servant she was and yet, they did not defend her from this charge of being . . . of course, it was venereal disease that they were talking about. So, Nursey put me to bed that night and lay down by me until I went to sleep and the next morning, she was gone. She had taken her daughter and left and she never came back.
SUE THRASHER:
She left on her own?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
She left on her own. She had been insulted and she left. She just up and left. And oh, the shock, to wake up in the morning and find Nursey gone! And Sarah gone. Everybody wondered what in the world had happened. Nobody could imagine why she had gone and I thought I knew, but of course, nobody was paying any attention to me. Maybe Mother had some suspicion of it, I don't know. Well, this was the first really great trauma of my life, because I lost this woman whom I had loved and who had looked after me for seven years. So, when we got back to Birmingham, she had gotten a job in the neighborhood with one of the neighbors and I used to go over and sit in the kitchen and just beg her to come back. Of course, she wouldn't do it. And Mother begged her to come back but she wouldn't do it. And that winter or spring, my grandmother died and I remember that I ran up to tell her that my grandmother had died and somehow I thought that if my grandmother had died, maybe she would come back to us. I associated the whole plantation with my grandmother. But she never came, wouldn't come. The strange thing was, she never lost her fondness for me. She would call occasionally and come to see us occasionally and as I said, years and years later in Washington, she remembered me. That's a curious story isn't it? It is absolutely a true story. But as you can see, between Nursey and Easter, I had a mighty hard time believing in the natural inferiority of the black race. Also, you see, I got accustomed to being looked after by blacks. They were my refuge in times of trouble and that was really the basis of my relationship with Mrs. Bethune, because Mrs. Bethune became translated into the black woman who looked after me and became my protector.