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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Repairing relationships broken by racism

Durr continues the story of her relationship with her nurse's family in this story. Though she had spent the first seven years of her life being cared for by this woman, she never knew her last name, but that early relationship did open the way for Durr's later activism.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Years and years later, I was in Washington working against the poll tax and I was working with a Mrs. Spraggs, who was a black woman, a very light woman, from Birmingham, Alabama, who wrote for the Chicago Defender. So, she and I got to be very friendly, we would kid each other about being from Birmingham, you know. And I would always call her Mrs. Spraggs and she would call me Mrs. Durr. We were being formal, but we were being . . . if I had called her Venice and she called me Virginia, that would have been fine, but she couldn't call me Mrs. Durr and I call her Venice, you see, and she never would call me Virginia. We were working toward a new relationship, if you know what I mean. So, she called me Mrs. Durr and I called her Mrs. Spraggs. She was a very handsome woman, very smart indeed. She worked in the NYA with Aubrey Williams and then she had come to Washington and was a correspondent for the Chicago Defender, which was a big Negro newspaper. One of the largest in the country and she was supporting the anti-poll tax fight and we were quite friendly. So, she came up to me one day and said, "Mrs. Durr, my mother-in-law is visiting me from Birmingham. She wants to see you." I said, "Who is that?" She said, "Her name is Mrs. Spraggs." I didn't know who in the world it could be, I had never heard of a Mrs. Spraggs. She said, "She knows you." I said, "I'm sorry, but I don't have the least recollection in my entire life of knowing anybody named Mrs. Spraggs." So, about a year later, she came up to me again and said, "Now, Mrs. Durr, my mother-in-law is visiting with me and she wants to see you. Her name is Mrs. Spraggs." And I said, "Mrs. Spraggs? I would like to see her. Bring her down to the office, but I have no recollection of Mrs. Spraggs at all." Well, the third year, she came to me and said, "Mrs. Durr, my sister-in-law would like to see you, she's visiting me and she knew you as a little girl." I said, "What is her name, and at that point, she said, "Sarah Spraggs." Well, you see, I had never known Nursey by her name at all.
So, the mother-in-law was . . . .
Was my old nurse and I had never known her name. Here she was, the love of my life and she raised me from a baby for all those seven years and I adored her, but I never knew her name. She was either Nursey or Alice. You see, her daughter-in-law would not call her by her old name, she kept telling me that she was "Mrs. Spraggs," and I didn't know who Mrs. Spraggs was. I had never heard of Nursey being called Mrs. Spraggs. It just shows you just how completely backwards I was. But she did say, "Sarah Spraggs." So, I immediately recognized Sarah. Well, Sarah came and she was a handsome woman then and we were both then in our thirties and I said to Venice Spraggs, "Bring her down to the office and we'll have lunch together." Well, the problem then was where in the name of God to have lunch with two black women. At that time, the only place that you could have lunch in Washington was at the YWCA, that was the only place that you could go that was integrated, black and white together. But there was a Chinese restaurant right near the office. So, I called up this Chinese restaurant and asked them if they would take us . . . . well, anyway we went there and they did take us and put us in a sort of a little private room. So, it was Sarah and we had a wonderful time talking about our childhood and our early life and Nursey by that time had died, you see. So, I missed seeing her because I didn't know her name. But the thing that Sarah remembered about me was when I threw the knife at my cousin because she called her a little nigger and wouldn't eat the chicken out of her hand. She had remembered that all her life, and Iremembered it too. And that was the thing that she remembered most about me. We tried to stay in touch with each other, but then I think she finally went to Chicago and finally faded out. I can't find her. I think that she got to be a school teacher. This is the difficulty, here I was, just as intimate with Sarah and Nursey and the tall yellow man, it was as though they were members of my family, and yet, I literally never knew what their name was.