Virginia Foster Durr (born August 6, 1903 in Birmingham; died February 24, 1999) was a 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 (though her sister's marriage) to and good friends with Supreme Court Chief Justice Hugo Black who sat on many crucial civil rights cases.
Early life to New Deal
She was born to Sterling and Anne Patterson Foster in Birmingham. She attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts until she had to leave during her junior year due to financial difficulties. 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), a Birmingham-based 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 Durr returned with her husband to Montgomery, 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, 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.
Durr was a supporter of the sit-in movement and Freedom Rights. Virginia and her husband offered sleeping space to students coming from the North to protest. Her husband, with whom she had four children, died in 1975. 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."
- Durr, Virginia Foster. (1985). Outside the Magic Circle: The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press.
- Sullivan, Patricia, ed. (2003) Freedom Writer: Virginia Foster Durr, Letters from the Civil Rights Years. New York: Routledge ISBN 041594516X
- "Virginia Foster Durr" (April 7, 2010) Wikipedia