Virginia Foster Durr, 1903-1999
Civil Rights Activist and Author
Virginia Foster Durr was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1903 to a life of privilege - if not money - and white southern tradition. She gradually stepped out of her ancestral “magic circle” to challenge the institutionalized inequality she saw outside it. Nourished by conviction, intellect, and courage, Mrs. Durr grew into her role as an activist by increasingly confronting the legal and social injustices that oppressed women, the poor, and blacks. When she and her attorney husband Cliffford Durr moved to Washington, D.C. in 1933, they benefited from the influence of their brother-in-law Senator Hugo Black and found themselves allied with the political architects of Roosevelt’s New Deal, the labor movement, and civil rights.
While raising a family at the same time, Mrs. Durr lobbied in the 1940s with Eleanor Roosevelt to abolish the poll taxes that blocked the poor from the ballot box. In1948 she ran for the U.S. Senate in Virginia on a platform to direct tax money toward a better standard of living for all Americans. When the Durrs moved to Montgomery in the 1950s, they joined the NAACP and Mrs. Durr became a member of an integrated women’s prayer group. In Montgomery the Durrs were visible and vocal supporters of the bus boycott, went with E.D. Nixon to bail Rosa Parks out of jail, and housed civil rights organizers and students working in the South in the 1960s.
The Durrs had struggles of their own - social ostracism, Klan intimidation, FBI investigation, and financial strife - but as Mrs. Durr says in her autobiography Outside the Magic Circle, “if you don’t believe in what you are doing, why do you do it? You don’t get anything out of it. You certainly don’t get fame or glory or money or high position. You just do it because you believe it is right.” In her later years, Mrs. Durr stayed active in state and local politics and was honored for a lifetime of moving history forward. When she died in 1999, she had lived 95 years doing what she thought was right.
Freedom writer : Virginia Foster Durr, letters from the civil rights years
Outside the Magic Circle : autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr
Women's History Month resources
Women's History Month 2007