Virginia Foster was born in Birmingham in 1903 to Dr. Sterling and Ann Patterson Foster. After two years at Wellesley College, she began to question and challenge her world. She returned to Alabama where she met and married Clifford J. Durr, a young attorney whose family was from Montgomery, Alabama. Durr became a nationally known figure and recognized as a defender of justice, social equality and civil rights.
As a young wife and mother in Depression-era Birmingham, Durr became active in the Junior League and volunteered for the Red Cross. While working with the Red Cross, she became aware that dairies poured their milk into the gutters when it could not be sold. She proposed a project for the Junior League to have the dairies donate the milk to the Red Cross to be distributed to the poor.
When the Durrs moved to Washington D.C. for Clifford to take a position in the Roosevelt New Deal administration, Virginia worked with the Democratic National Committee women's section and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt campaigning to abolish the poll tax. As a founding member of the Southern Conference on Human Welfare, she served as the vice-chairman of the Civil Rights Committee, a subcommittee to abolish the poll tax. Eventually, the committee split from the Southern Conference in 1941 and became the National Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax. She continued for years to work for women's rights, civil rights, labor issues and to abolish the poll tax.
While working to improve labor conditions and on other labor issues, Durr worked with individuals who later became labeled "communists" or "socialists." She was called before Senator James Eastland's subcommittee investigating possible communist activities. Rather than name anyone as a communist or socialist, she refused to respond to the committee's questions. She was encouraged by more than one family member and friend to stop associating with various people and organizations and there were many times when the Durrs were ostracized from what was termed in her autobiography as the "Magic Circle," the social elite of Alabama.
The Durr's interest and belief in social equality continued to develop and grow especially as they personally witnessed social injustice. With the Brown Decision and the integration of Montgomery public schools, their home became a "safe place" for African-American student Arlam Carr and other African-American students that attended Sidney Lanier High School. Both Clifford and Virginia became well known white southern supporters of the Civil Rights Movement with the Rosa Parks arrest in Montgomery in 1955. On the evening of Parks arrest, E.D. Nixon and the Durrs went to the Montgomery jail to obtain Parks' release. Their involvement continued throughout the court case and the bus boycott.
Virginia Foster Durr died on February 24, 1999. At the time of her death, The Atlanta Constitution described her as a true moral authority and the white matron of the Civil Rights Movement. President Bill Clinton commented at her passing: "Her courage, outspokeness, and steely conviction in the earliest days of the civil rights movement helped change this nation forever."
Alabama Women's Hall of Fame