Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
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 >>

Durr becomes increasingly critical of racial prejudice

Earlier in the interview, Durr had described how Clark Foreman had challenged her racial prejudice. Here, she describes how he continued to push her understanding of race by introducing her to individuals such as Mary McLeod Bethune, showing her the inconsistency in her bigotry and telling her stories that took southern racism to its most inane degree.

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

JACQUELYN HALL:
Virginia, when the controversy over segregation came up, is that . . . had you thought about that issue before?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh, I was furious at Bull Conner. By that time, I had come around to thinking that segregation was terrible.
JACQUELYN HALL:
How had you come around to that from the time that. . . .
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
From the time that Clark Foreman and I had the big fight? Well, just by osmosis, I reckon. See, I met Mrs. Bethune and I met various Negro people at the Foreman's house like the Dobbses and these were the first time that I had met them on an equal plame, if you know what I mean. I had always known them before as servants and the mailman was probably the highest educated Negro that I met before I went to Washington. I never met one that could read or write well except the postman and I remember that the postman was a very literate man and I remember going back down and shaking hands with him and saying that I was so glad to see him and called him "Mr." and oh, I got hell on that. My brother-in-law heard me and said, "Now look, Virginia, if you think that you are going to get by with calling the postman, "Mr.', you are wrong. Birmingham won't stand for that."
SUE THRASHER:
Was this Hugo?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, no, Cliff's brother, who is a lovely man, but you see, he was just as rigid as he could be. I remember that. You know, it's like having escaped from a prison, as if you had gotten out of a cage. That's why I get so upset over the blacks that want to put themselves back in a cage, because it was a terrible thing to be white and have to think that everybody that wasn't white was inferior and looking down on them and thinking that they smelled bad, were common, vulgar, it's just terrible. I don't know if you can remember how dreadful it was, you are too young. It was so rude, too. You know, I was brought up to be a southern lady and it dawned upon me how rude it was to think that a black was too dirty and smelled too bad to sit by me or had to be segregated. And of course, I had been raised by them and sat in their laps, slept with them and kissed them all my life. You know, this was what was so crazy about the South. This is way you young people have got to eventually . . . and I hope, maybe after I'm dead and gone, that the South will become reasonable. It is getting more reasonable now, I think that you young people are more reasonable and more reasonable things are happening, but the South is still crazy. You see, we grew up with such contradictory feelings. "I loved dear old Suzy, she raised me from a baby and she treated me like a mama and she is the sweetest thing in the world," but "of course, I wouldn't sit by her son on the bus." Think of the men that repudiated their own children. I mean, didn't it ever occur to you that most of the light Negroes that you see in the South had white fathers or white grandfathers? What did it do to a man to repudiate his own child? And to say that he was so inferior that he can't sit on a bus and drink a glass of water. Just think what it did to a man to do that? Can you imagine? Wouldn't you think that would do something funny to their brains? To say, "That's my son, but he can't. . . ." Clark Foreman told me the funniest, most awful tale that I ever heard in my life. He told me two. He said that there was a white girl who got pregnant by a black boy voluntarily, you know, voluntarily. . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Were these stories he told you at the time, in the 30's?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, this is something that he was concerned with down in Georgia. Anyway, this country white girl got pregnant by this black fellow and so, she had a baby who was sent to a black orphanage, because her family had found out about it. But the mother of the child wanted to see the child after it had been there some time, so she went to the black orphanage where the child was, I guess that the child was four or five, but anyway, it was eating at the table with the other children and the people that ran the orphanage said to her, "Don't you want to sit by your child?" And she said, "Well, I couldn't do it, eat with blacks?" This was her own child! She couldn't sit by her own child! She could have nursed him at her breast, but she couldn't eat with him. And he told me that as a true story. He even told me a funnier story about how down on the Howell plantation, they had an uncle or something that had several black half children and they were brought up at his aunt's, sort of in the back yard all together. They knew they were kin, there wasn't any doubt about that, everybody knew that. So, the blacks went up to Philadelphia and this woman in particular did very well. Her son got to be a doctor and she rose in the world. She came back to Atlanta and she called one of the aunts and said that she wanted to see them. She had been gone so long and she remembered so much about them. And Clark said that they had family meeting to see this woman, this half-sister or whatever she was of theirs. They couldn't meet in the parlor, that would be just absolutely breaking every taboo in the South, since she was half-black. They couldn't take her into the kitchen, because she had risen in the world and her son was a doctor, so they decided that the lady that would receive her, she would go to bed and pretend that she was sick and then they could bring her up into the bedroom and all the other aunts could come visit and they could all sit down. He said that they had a whole family gathering to decide this. Well, that's the way things were. It's hard to believe now.