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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 >>

Durr becomes vice chairman of the poll tax committee

Durr became vice chairman of the Southern Conference's poll tax committee, and she explains why she believed that was the most important issue she could address. She relates the women's movement to the pushes for racial and economic equity to show how this was the one issue that really encompassed all the systems of oppression in the United States.

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:
Why was it that the poll tax issue was the one that you really decided to concentrate on.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Because I don't think that people have any political freedom until they have the right to vote. I don't think that . . .I think that is the first recognition of a democratic society, that people have the right to vote. I didn't think that the labor people or black people or women were getting their right to vote.
SUE THRASHER:
Had you or other people encouraged the issue of the poll tax? Had you done some work on it?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Oh yes, Myles Horton had done it. He brought a case one time, it was a case brought in Tennessee and which reached the Supreme Court but they turned it down on the basis that the state had the right to name the qualifications of voters, you see. That is in the Constitution. You see, what we claimed was that this was not a qualification of a voter, it was simply a tax on a vote and these are two opposite points of view.
SUE THRASHER:
Had you or Myles tried to lobby behind the scenes at the Conference to raise the poll tax as one of its main issues?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, no, it was almost unanimous. With the black people, the labor people and at that time, the radicals, there were the Communists, the socialists and so they and the New Dealers and the women . . . there was no woman's movement at that time, I was its only representative. And some of the labor people were all just unanimous about it. They couldn't get anywhere until they had the right to vote. You see, the labor people were being thrown into jail and beat up by sheriffs which they didn't elect. It was almost a unanimous feeling. You see, you've got to read (and I am sure that you have read and it is too long to tell,) but you have to read the whole struggle for the right to vote in the South, the fact that it was so long, it had, in time, popular support. Then, after the Civil War was over, of course, you had . . . see, women never got the right to vote. You know that. Then, of course, there was the great issue of the fact that blacks were counted in representation without being given the right to vote. They were counted in population and a black man was counted 2/3 or 3/5 of a person,* I forget. * A black man was counted as 3/5 of a person. But you see, the black women were never given the right to vote when the black men were given the right to vote and the black men got the right to vote before the white women got the right to vote. People don't seem to realize that. Of course, it was taken away from them by all these different disen-franchising provisions, all the poll tax and white primaries and so forth. But it wasn't a question of lobbying for it. Everybody wanted it, it was almost a universal desire of the people there. You see, we were at that time, part of a Roosevelt coalition. It consisted of the labor unions, they were sort of the bedrock of it, but it wasn't a question of lobbying for it, but of responding to the demand. I was in it for the women, but my God, the blacks had stronger feelings, although they always said that even when we got the poll tax abolished, they still had the registration restrictions to get around. The Grandfather Clause. So, while they were for it, they always realized that their own battle would have to come later, because they would have to do away with the registration provisions and the property and literary provisions. In some of the states, if a man was illiterate, he couldn't vote but he could if he owned $300 or so much worth of property. So, the blacks helped us on the poll tax fights. The NAACP and the black Elks and all the black organizations, you know, got into it. But at the same time, you see, they always realized that they had other barriers besides the poll tax, which was a money tax. It was a question of poverty there, but the blacks realized that they had the special provisions of the registration.