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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Rural poverty during the Great Depression

The Durrs had seen the devastating effect the Great Depression had on the industrialized urban areas. During the week they spent vacationing, they saw how desperate life in the rural area had become. In this poignant vignette, Durr discovers that some of the families had not had any sugar in months, putting her own financial situation in perspective.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-2. 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

VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Now, before we leave Alabama . . . I'm just about to leave. (laughter) I want to tell you two episodes that I think you will find interesting. One was, while we were down there on the river, there were a lot of people who were refugeeing on the river. People were just starving and all, no money at all and there was a lot of land, islands, that the power company owned and nobody lived on and what they would do, is that they would come down and build some sort of shack out of anything they could. They called them "Hoovervilles." They would fish in the river, which was full of fish, and then just live off the land, like they had gone back to nature almost. So, while we were down there, one night, Mr. Mims, who had a fishing camp . . . but nobody came to it, because nobody had any money, he brought down his whole family and one of these families that were living on the island and I was terrified because here were ten or twelve people and I didn't know what to give them to eat, you know. Mr. Mims was akind of a funny fellow and he played a guitar and they sang a lot of the old songs and somebody got up and sort of danced, a buck and wing dance but I knew that I had to give them something to eat. And I was terrified because I didn't know what to give them. I went back in the kitchen and fortunately, I had a five pound sack of sugar and I found some chocolate and I made some fudge. Well, honestly, do you know that those people had not had any sugar for months and months. They hadn't had anything sweet. You see, sugar is one thing that they couldn't buy and they couldn't grow and the sugar cane wasn't around. If I had given them the most marvelous meal in the world, they couldn't have been any more thrilled than
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Was working for the abolotion of the poll tax and that went on for years and years. As I say, finally we got it signed out of committee, and it. . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
It passed in the House, right?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
They would sign it out of committee and pass it in the House and it would go to the Senate and be fillibustered to death. And of course, the fillibuster, everyone from the the South would do it. The only support that we got from the South was Claude Pepper, who introduced the Bill to abolish the Poll Tax several times, and he did it because they had abolished it in Florida by state action and also in Tennessee. So, we had Estes Kefauver and Claude Pepper. Those were the only two. Estes Kefauver is dead, but Claude Pepper is still living, if you can get him to talk.
SUE THRASHER:
How about North Carolina and Louisiana, hadn't they abolished it also?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, of course, we did get. . . .
SUE THRASHER:
North Carolina had abolished it in 1920.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
We did get help from Frank Graham of course, but I can't remember getting any help from any other North CArolina politician. Of course, Frank Graham got to be Senator eventually and did help.
JACQUELYN HALL:
I think it was also abolished in Louisiana, by Huey Long. they were. They not only ate every piece of fudge I made, but the children came in and took the bowls and licked the spoons and they were just thrilled because they hadn't had sugar for weeks and months. They hadn't tasted a bit of sugar. We thought that we were having a pretty tough time at that time and I realized that we were just living on the fat of the land, because although cliff didn't have a job and we didn't know what we were going to do, we knew that we always had somebody to fall back on, you see. I told you that his brother-in-law had offered to lend him any amount of money that he needed. I realized that these people were completely desperate.