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 home >> Civil Rights History Project >> Survey of Collections and Repositories >> Collections >> Collection Record

The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

Durr, Virginia Foster. Papers

Repository: Harvard University. Radcliffe Institute. Schlesinger Library

Collection Description (CRHP): The oral histories of Virginia Foster Durr and Clifford Durr are copies from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library oral history collection.

Collection Description (Extant): Born 6 August, 1903, and raised in Birmingham, Ala., VFD was the youngest child of Anne (Patterson) and Sterling Johnson Foster. She attended Wellesley College from 1921 to 1923, when she was forced to withdraw due to lack of funds. In 1926 she married Clifford Judkins Durr. In 1933, when CJD was appointed to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), the Durrs moved to Seminary Hill, Va.; CJD later worked for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
During the years the Durrs lived in Virginia, VFD led an active social life. Her circle included government officials she knew through CJD and through her sister, Josephine, and brother-in-law, Hugo Black, Sr., who was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1937. She also devoted time to liberal causes. From 1938 to 1948 VFD was active in the Southern Conference in Human Welfare, primarily fighting the poll tax. She campaigned for progressive Democrats in 1942 and for the Progressive Party, supporting Henry A. Wallace's 1948 presidential bid. She also endorsed the American Peace Crusade in 1951.
In 1951, after a brief period in Denver, the Durrs returned to Alabama, where CJD opened a private law practice in Montgomery, and VFD worked as his secretary. In 1954 VFD and others were accused of being Communists and were called before the Senate Internal Security Sub-Committee, chaired by Senator James Eastland of Mississippi. Although CJD did not serve as VFD's attorney, he did a great deal of work on the case, collecting information about the informants and providing legal advice to VFD and her co-defendants. The accusations were ultimately proven to be false.
In 1955, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, CJD was called in as her attorney and arranged for her release on bail. This incident sparked the "Montgomery Bus Boycott," during which African Americans refused to ride on public transportation in the city for over a year. Thus began a second period of civil rights activism for VFD.
VFD's political activities, and CJD's activities with the National Lawyers' Guild and his public attacks on loyalty oaths and the FBI, led to surveillance by the Bureau. The FBI reports on the Durrs, released to VFD in 1977 under the Freedom of Information Act, are in this collection (#6-10 and 25-30).
The Durrs had five children, four of whom survived to adulthood: Ann Durr Lyon, Lucy Durr Hackney, Virginia Foster ("Tilla") Durr, and Lulah Durr Colan. Since the death of CJD in 1975, VFD has continued to live in Wetumpka, Ala., spending summers on Martha's Vineyard, Mass. Her autobiography, Outside the Magic Circle , was published in 1985.

Series I, Biographical, family, writings and speeches, #1-88. Biographical materials include a transcript of an oral history interview of VFD and CJD, the Durrs' FBI files, clippings about and photographs of VFD and her family, and materials about VFD's education. There are also CJD's files on the Eastland hearings; research notes and drafts of Outside the Magic Circle and other writings; speech notes; and materials collected by VFD, mostly writings by others.
Series II, Correspondence, #89-263, makes up the bulk of the collection. It includes correspondence with family and friends, mostly letters to VFD; notable exceptions are the many letters from VFD to the Eliots and Foremans. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically, with unsigned letters or those with illegible signatures filed at the end of the alphabet. The letters are about friends, social life, U.S. politics, civil rights, McCarthyism, socialism, pacifism, and the South. There are a few letters from or to Clifford Durr or other family and friends; many of the latter were sent as enclosures in letters to VFD. The collection includes letters from Jessica Mitford; VFD's letters to JM are housed with JM's papers at the University of Texas at Austin. A few letters containing sensitive information have been temporarily removed.

Access Copy Note: Family correspondence is closed to research except to members of the family and to those who have prior written permission of Virginia Foster Durr's daughter, Virginia Foster Durr. Correspondence with Jessica Mitford is closed to research except to those who have written permission of Virginia Foster Durr's daughter, Virginia Foster Durr. Certain letters containing sensitive material are temporarily closed.

Date(s): 1919-1991

Digital Status: No

Existing IDs: Call No.: 74-301--92-M172

Extent: 3 cartons; 2+1/2 file boxes; 1 folio folder; 11 folders of photographs

Finding Aid URL: External Link

Language: English

Related Archival Items: Papers of Clifford J. Durr and other papers of Virginia Foster Durr are at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery. The Southern Oral History Program at UNC-Chapel Hill also contains an oral history of Virginia Durr. The transcript of the oral history interview of Virginia Foster Durr and Clifford J. Durr at the Schlesinger Library is a copy of one done for Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in 1975. The Columbia University Oral History Office also has oral histories of Virginia and Clifford Durr; a copy exists at Harvard of the transcript of the 1974 one of Virginia Durr. A number of other interviews exist of Durr at Harvard; for information on these collections and other ones, search for Virginia Durr in this database.

Interviewees: Virginia Foster Durr, Clifford Durr

Rights (Extant): In all cases researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the director of the Schlesinger Library prior to the publication of any portions of materials found in the collection.


Anti-communist movements
Civil rights movements--Alabama
Civil rights movements--Southern States
Parks, Rosa, 1913-2005
Peace movements
Poll tax--Southern States
Southern Conference for Human Welfare
Women civil rights workers




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   May 15, 2015
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