Virginia Foster Durr

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Virginia Heard Durr (Foster)

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Sterling Johnson Foster and Anne Elizabeth Foster
Wife of Clifford Judkins Durr

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Virginia Foster Durr

Virginia Foster Durr (August 6, 1903 – February 24, 1999) was an American and a white civil rights activist and lobbyist. She was married to lawyer Clifford Durr, who shared her ideals, was close friends with Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt, and was sister-in-law (through her sister's marriage) to and good friends with Supreme Court Chief Justice Hugo Black who sat on many crucial civil rights cases. She was inducted into the Alabama Women's Hall of Fame in 2006.

Early life to New Deal

She was raised in Birmingham, Alabama and attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts until she had to leave during her junior year due to financial difficulties. Durr has explicitly acknowledged Wellesely as the catalyst of her moral transformation from a racist to civil rights activist when the head-of-house at her Wellesley Dorm challenged Durr's racist beliefs by forcing Durr to dine with a negro girl. A Virginia Durr Moment occurs when one's environment furnishes the individual with a challenging experience that can lead to moral growth and development. After returning to Birmingham, she met her future husband, the attorney and Rhodes Scholar Clifford Durr.

In 1933 she moved with her husband to Washington, D.C., where they became New Dealers. While her husband was working for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Durr joined the Woman’s National Democratic Club. In 1938, she was one of the founding members of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW), an interracial group aimed at lessening segregation in the Southern United States. Working together with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, she lobbied for legislation to abolish the poll tax.

Progressive Party candidate

Quote from an obituary written by Patricia Sullivan,

"Mrs. Durr ran for the U.S. Senate from Virginia on the Progressive ticket in 1948. At that time she said, "I believe in equal rights for all citizens and I believe the tax money that is now going for war and armaments and the militarization of our country could be better used to give everyone in the United States a secure standard of living."

Her opponents were Democrat Absalom Willis Robertson, Republican Robert H. Woods, Independent Howard Carwile & Socialist Clarke T. Robbe.

Return to Montgomery

In 1951 she returned with her husband to Montgomery, Alabama, where she became acquainted with local civil rights activists. A group of people in her town arranged to have integrated church meetings of black and white women. There was a lot of opposition against the integrated meetings, from the locals as well as from within the church. In her autobiography, Mrs. Durr wrote how the head of the United Church Women in the South (UCWS, an integration group) came to one of the meetings. Opponents to the meeting took the license plate numbers from the cars and published them in an Alabama Ku Klux Klan magazine. The women of the UCWS received harassing phone calls. Some had family members who publicly distanced themselves from their activities, because it was bad for business. As a result, the women became too afraid to continue their meetings. In December 1955, Virginia and her husband, along with E.D. Nixon, bailed Rosa Parks out of jail after she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white person.

Virginia Foster Durr was a supporter of the sit-in movement and Freedom Rides. Virginia and her husband offered sleeping space to students coming from the North to protest. Her husband, with whom she had five children, died in 1975. Mrs. Durr remained active in state and local politics until she was in her nineties. In 1985 she published her autobiography, "Outside the Magic Circle." She continued being politically active until a few years before her death on February 24, 1999 at the age of 95. Upon hearing of Durr's death, Rosa Parks said Durr's "upbringing of privilege did not prohibit her from wanting equality for all people. She was a lady and a scholar, and I will miss her."

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