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Oral history interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975

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Creator:Durr, Virginia Foster
Creator:Thrasher, Sue
Creator:Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd
Creator:Durr, Clifford J. (Clifford Judkins), 1899-1975
Title:Oral history interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975
Date:1975 Mar. 13-1975 Mar. 15

Virginia Foster Durr discusses her early life and how she became aware of the social justice problems plaguing twentieth-century America. Descended from a wealthy southern family that emigrated to Alabama during the early 1800s, she begins by telling stories she heard from her grandmother about life in the antebellum South. She explains what life was like on the plantation when she was a child, focusing on race relations between her family and the black workers employed by her grandmother. Her grandmother practiced noblesse oblige, giving gifts and parties to the poorer white and black families in her community. Throughout the interview, Durr reflects on her relationship with her father, addressing his disappointment in the fact that she was a girl and listing his various disciplinary methods. While Durr's parents carefully maintained an aura of condescending tolerance toward the blacks they employed, not all of her relatives were as gentle.

After the death of her grandmother, Durr's parents advanced in Birmingham society, joining the country club and other social organizations. She repeatedly returns to the issues surrounding southern female gender identity, especially for elite women. She talks about how her social circle dealt with issues of sexuality and describes the racial and class divisions that ran through Birmingham during her youth. As teenagers, Durr and her sister Josephine, along with many other young southern belles, were sent to New York City for finishing and socialization. While there, Josephine met and married Hugo Black, the future Supreme Court Justice. Durr asserts that while her sister and Hugo Black had a happy marriage, the relationship stifled something within her sister. Nevertheless, the other women in her family never questioned the roles and even averred that women who fought for more rights had immoral reasons. Durr managed to convince her parents to send her to Wellesley for two years. While there, she began to question many of the assumptions that had governed her relationships and behaviors while in Alabama. Because of financial problems, Durr left Wellesley after her sophomore year, returning home to spend a year as a debutante. When she failed to find an eligible offer that year, she took a job at the law library, where she met her future husband, Clifford.

The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for the aggregation and enhancement of partner metadata.

Types:Transcripts | Sound recordings | Oral histories
Subjects:Durr, Virginia Foster | Durr, Clifford J. (Clifford Judkins), 1899-1975 | Southern States--Race relations | Women civil rights workers | Women--Alabama--Birmingham | Birmingham (Ala.)--Social life and customs | Wellesley College--Students | Women college students--Massachusetts--Wellesley | Birmingham (Ala.)--Race relations | Birmingham (Ala.) | Jefferson County (Ala.) | Wellesley (Mass.) | Norfolk County (Mass.)
Collection:Oral Histories of the American South: The Civil Rights Movement
Institution:Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Contributors:Southern Oral History Program | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Documenting the American South (Project) | University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library | Oral histories of the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Documenting the American South (Project))
Online Publisher:[Chapel Hill, N.C.] : University Library, UNC-Chapel Hill. | 2007
Original Material:

Title from menu page (viewed on May 6, 2008).

Interview participants: Virginia Foster Durr, interviewee; Clifford Durr, interviewee; Sue Thrasher, interviewer; Jacquelyn Hall, interviewer.

Duration: 06:16:45.

This electronic edition is part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South. It is a part of the collection Oral histories of the American South.

Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner. Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers.

Related Materials:

Forms part of Oral histories of the American South collection.

Persistent Link to Item:http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/G-0023-1/menu.html