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.
Virginia Foster was the daughter of Sterling and Anne Patterson Foster of 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. She worked with the Junior League of Birmingham and Red Cross to distribute unsold milk to poor families.
In 1933 the Durrs moved with her husband to Washington, D.C., where Clifford took a job in President Roosevelt's "New Deal" Reconstruction Finance Corporation. Durr joined the Democratic National Committee women's section, where she helped First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt lobby for legislation to abolish poll taxes. In 1938 she was a founding member of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW) and served as vice chair of its Civil Rights Committee, which also sought the abolition of poll taxes. That committee split off from the SCHW in 1941 as the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax.
Durr's social activism also involved efforts to improve labor conditions and support organized labor. Through her work, she became associated with individuals who would later be labeled as "socialists" and "communists". She refused to answer questions when called before a Senate subcommittee headed by James Eastland investigated possible communist activities. Those associations also strained her relationships with her family's social circle in Alabama.
In 1948 Durr campaigned unsuccessfully as a Progressive Party candidate against incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator A. Willis Robertson of Virginia. She stated that, "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."
In 1951 the Durrs moved back to Montgomery, and she became acquainted with local leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. She supported plans by the United Church Women in the South (UCWS) to host bi-racial meetings in the face of threats by the Ku Klux Klan and other anti-integrationists. In December 1955 the Durrs and E. D. Nixon bailed Rosa Parks out of jail following her arrest for refusing a bus driver's order to give up her seat to a white man. They remained involved in the ensuing boycott organized by Martin Luther King Jr's Montgomery Improvement Association and with Parks' ongoing court battles.
The Durrs opened their house to visitors to Montgomery participating in Civil Rights activities and, later, to the first black students to attend classes at Sidney Lanier High School.
After Clifford's death in 1975, Virginia Durr remained active in state and local politics. She published her autobiography, Outside the Magic Circle in 1985. She died in February 1999 at the age of 95. Upon hearing of Durr's death, Rosa Parks said that 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." President Bill Clinton noted that her, "courage, outspokenness, and steely conviction in the earliest days of the Civil Rights movement helped change this nation forever."
- 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