Durr, Virginia Foster
August 6, 1903 to February 24, 1999
On 1 December 1955, Virginia Durr and her husband Clifford went with E. D. Nixon to bail Rosa Parks out of jail for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus. Durr later wrote, “That was a terrible sight to me to see this gentle, lovely, sweet woman, whom I knew and was so fond of, being brought down by a matron” (Durr, 280). Parks’ arrest prompted the Montgomery bus boycott and thrust Martin Luther King into a leadership role.
Daughter of Sterling J. and Anne Patterson Foster of Birmingham, Alabama, Durr attended Wellesley College before she married Clifford Durr of Montgomery in 1926. The Durrs moved to Washington, D.C., and Clifford worked with New Deal programs while Virginia worked to abolish the poll tax before returning to Montgomery in the early 1950s. Virginia Durr was a founding member of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in 1938, and was present at the organization’s meeting in Birmingham when Eleanor Roosevelt refused to adhere to the segregated seating in the auditorium. In 1954, the Durrs were accused of being Communist sympathizers and were called to testify before James O. Eastland’s Senate International Securities Subcommittee.
In July 1955, Durr arranged a scholarship for Rosa Parks to attend an integration workshop at the Highlander Folk School, an experience that inspired Parks to challenge the segregated bus system. After Parks’ arrest, the Durrs and Nixon urged her to file a test case against Montgomery’s segregation policies.
Throughout the bus boycott, Virginia Durr remained an avid supporter, highlighting the importance of white involvement in the protest. She later recalled that during the year-long boycott, white women in Montgomery would offer rides to the black women who worked in their homes, but “a vast deceit went on. Everybody knew everybody else was lying, but to save face, they had to lie. The black women had to say they weren’t taking any part in the boycott. The white women had to say that their maids didn’t take any part in the boycott” (Durr, 283).
In February 1959, Martin and Coretta King sent a postcard to Clifford and Virginia from India. In Durr’s autobiography, she recalled that when King called for people from all over the country to come for the Selma to Montgomery March in March 1965, her home in Montgomery filled up with people such as C. Vann Woodward, Sterling professor at Yale; Carl Braden; and Lou Pollak, dean of the Yale Law School. She remembered, “I spent all my time making coffee and frying bacon and eggs for them” (Durr, 325). Throughout her life Virginia Durr remained involved with numerous civil and human rights organizations, including the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Durr, Outside the Magic Circle, 1985.
Gray, Bus Ride to Justice, 1995.
Introduction, in Papers 3:3.
Rosenberg and Foner, eds., Divided Lives, 1992.