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Virginia Foster Durr

Virginia Foster Durr (August 6, 1903-February 24, 1999)

New Dealer/Civil Rights Activist

Founder, Southern Conference on Human Welfare

During Black History Month 2014, the Center for the Church and the Black Experience is honoring faithful Black women freedom fighters. Today we honor Virginia Foster Durr.

DurrGranddaughter of an owner of enslaved African Americans, and admitted racist, Virginia Foster was born and raised near Birmingham, Alabama to Dr. Sterling and Ann Patterson Foster. Miss Foster attended Wellesley College where she was confronted with her deep-seated prejudices. In her sophomore year, she was met with the difficult choice of either agreeing to eat at the same table as an African-American student or leaving school. Choosing to stay at school, the decision would change her life forever, because it was the beginning of her moral transformation from her racist outlook.

A family crisis cut short her time at Wellesley, so in 1923, Miss Foster returned home to Birmingham where she met her future husband, Alabama attorney and Rhodes Scholar, Clifford Durr. The couple married and in 1933, moved to Washington, D.C., where both became avid supporters of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda.  Through her work with the Democratic National Committee, Mrs. Durr worked with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to eliminate the poll tax. In 1938, Mrs. Durr became a founding member of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, where she sought to bring together disparate liberal groups in the South to end violence against labor organizations and work towards racial integration.  As a founder of SCHW and as a member of other organizations like the Southern Conference Educational Fund, Mrs. Durr routinely challenged White privilege. She worked closely with friends like Ella Baker and Mary McCloud Bethune to challenge racist social, economic, and political attitudes at both the local and national levels.

With the integration of Montgomery public schools, her home became a "safe place" for African-American students that attended Sidney Lanier High School. Mrs. Durr also worked with Mrs. Rosa Parks after she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus, which became the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Virginia Foster Durr died on February 24, 1999. At the time of her death, The Atlanta Constitution described her as “the white matron of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Photo: Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame http://www.awhf.org/durr.htm (Accessed 1/23/14)
http://www.nwhp.org/whm/durr_bio.php  (Accessed 1/23/14)
http://crdl.usg.edu/export/html/eoa/eoaa/crdl_eoa_eoaa_h-1593.html?Welcome  (Accessed 1/23/14)

Compiled by Beverly Moore

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