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Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    In this fast-paced 1975 interview, Virginia Foster Durr and her husband Clifford banter back and forth as Clifford reminds Virginia of stories, names and significant events throughout the conversation. The interview, the second in a series of three, begins where the first one left off—with Virginia's growing awareness of social problems in the South, particularly of the evils of poverty. During the early 1930s, they faced a great many changes. Her brother-in-law Hugo Black returned to the Senate, and her mother had to be hospitalized because of depression. When Clifford lost his job in a Birmingham law office, he accepted a position with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in Washington, D.C. After they arrived in Washington, she attempted to join the social milieu. One day, however, she decided she had had enough of all the receptions and joined the women's division of the Democratic Party to work with Eleanor Roosevelt. She became involved with issue of the poll tax, having herself been unable to vote several times because of it. Through their various activities, the Durrs befriended Clark Foreman, Lyndon Johnson, John L. and Kathryn Lewis, Tallulah Bankhead, and other young New Dealers. The La Follette Civil Liberties Committee hearings following the brutal attack on Joe Gelders drove Virginia to recognize how complicit her family and friends were in the violence and injustice occurring across the South. As a result, she helped organize the Southern Conference for Human Welfare in 1938. She also met Mary McLeod Bethune, and in the interview, she tells stories about how Bethune handled the racial segregation in various places they went, often undermining it in clever ways. As both the Durrs became increasingly involved in the New Deal actions, they became aware of the growing anti-Communist feeling that was spreading across the United States. In the interview, they discuss various manifestations of the growing hysteria, including Truman's loyalty oath, which ultimately drove Clifford from public office. Still hopeful and idealistic, Durr campaigned for Henry Wallace, the Progressive candidate, in 1948.
    Excerpts
  • The Great Depression strikes the industrial areas of the South
  • The Great Depression and Durr's family
  • Durr organizes segregated entertainment
  • Clifford leaves his law firm in the middle of the Great Depression
  • Clifford earns a position with the Reconstruction Finance Corporation
  • Rural poverty during the Great Depression
  • Durr spends time with a Communist
  • Durr joins the women's division of the Democratic Party
  • Durr joins the anti-poll tax efforts
  • The Durrs' racist beliefs are challenged by Clark and Mairi Foreman
  • Durr serves at a reception honoring an African American
  • The Durrs find friendship with other southern liberals in Washington, D.C.
  • The Durrs befriend the Lewises
  • Durr learns about the dark side of southern paternalism
  • Durr renews her friendship with the Gelders
  • Foreman founds the Southern Policy Committee
  • The Durrs meet Lucy Randolph Mason and become more active in social justice efforts
  • The first Southern Conference for Human Welfare
  • Opposition to the Durrs' increasing activism
  • Durr becomes increasingly critical of racial prejudice
  • Durr becomes vice chairman of the poll tax committee
  • Money, gender, race, and power in the New South
  • Racism in the social justice movements of the 1930s
  • The ways race, class, and gender undermine alliances among the oppressed
  • Durr discusses work and family
  • Character attacks on Hugo Black
  • Finding sponsors for the poll tax bills
  • The FBI investigates the poll tax committee
  • Anti-Communism splits the poll tax committee
  • Socioeconomic divisions between middle-class activists and working-class laborers
  • Durr's stance on the Cold War
  • Durr describes Mike and Binnie Straight
  • Japanese internment, red-baiting, and the Durrs
  • Various ways activists protest racism
  • Durr keeps peace between Dombrowski and Foreman
  • Mary McLeod Bethune protests segregation policies
  • Mary Church Terrell challenges segregation
  • Durr joins the Progressive Party
  • Durr joins the Progressive Party
  • Perspectives on Wallace's campaign
  • Use of "black peril" to break up union activists
  • Learn More
  • Finding aid to the Southern Oral History Program Collection
  • Database of all Southern Oral History Program Collection interviews
  • Subjects
  • Southern Conference for Human Welfare
  • Women in trade-unions
  • Black, Hugo LaFayette, 1886-1971
  • Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
  • Lewis, John
  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.