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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 >>

Use of "black peril" to break up union activists

Singer and actress Libby Holman caused many controversies during her brief marriage to Zachary "Smith" Reynolds. During one meeting Durr attended for tobacco workers, a public relations man tried to raise the threat of black peril and instead committed a snafu: he put up a large image of Holman dancing with a black man.

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

The funniest thing that happened there was that this famous blues singer named . . . what was her name? She married one of the Reynolds, the Reynolds tobacco people. She was on Broadway and a big star and sang in that sort of sultry voice, a torch singer. So, she married one of the Reynolds and he was killed in some mysterious circumstances and twenty years later, their son fell off a mountain and was killed. Libby Holman! That's her name.
CLIFFORD DURR:
I remember that Jennings Perry had an affair with her one time.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well, Jennings had a love for all the ladies. . . .
JACQUELYN HALL:
Jennings Perry had an affair with Libby Holman? (laughter)
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes, he had an affair with everybody he could lay his hands on. He was a real woman-lover.
CLIFFORD DURR:
I remember seeing her with Jennings one time in New York.
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
That's right, and she had on furs and diamonds by the ton.
SUE THRASHER:
This was after her husband died?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Yes. Jennings was very attractive to ladies. Have you ever met Jennings? He's aold man now.
SUE THRASHER:
Was her son kidnapped or something?
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
No, he was climbing a mountain and fell down the mountain. But the husband was killed, they were having a very fast, gay houseparty with a lot of Broadway people and he just showed up dead, shot. Know one ever knew who did it. There was some suspicion that she shot him. But the story about this tobacco meeting that I went to speak to in . . .Winston-Salem, that's what it was. So, we got there, they had it in a great big tobacco shed where they cured the tobacco. On all the seats, there was a picture of a white woman and a black man. The man was playing the piano or they were dancing together, I think that maybe it was Bo Jangles Robinson. But anyway, it was a black man and a white woman. So,. . . . [END OF TAPE 5, SIDE A] [TAPE 5, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 5, SIDE B]
VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
So, this was a warning, you see. "This is what the Progressive party means." White woman and a black man. Just as the meeting started, it dawned on somebody that this was Libby Holman Reynolds. Wife of the heir to the tobacco company. You know, this was the Reynolds Tobacco Company union. So, you never saw anything so funny in your life. They were in there getting those leaflets up so fast, I hid one, I sat on it. (laughter) But some public relations man had made one big error. I imagine he lost his job.