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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Launching the anti-poll tax committee

Following the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, Durr and Joe Gelders worked to launch the anti-poll tax committee. The lack of income made it very difficult for Gelders, and Durr describes how she tried to help him. She also discusses whether he was affiliated with the Communist Party.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, October 16, 1975. Interview G-0023-3. 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

Well, soon after this meeting was over Joe Gelders came up to Birmingham to get some one to introduce a bill in Congress to abolish the poll tax. And that was part of the resolution, decision, too. And Maury Maverick, as I said, agreed to be the president of the committee, but he got beat for Congress soon thereafter and became mayor of San Antonio. But we had got ahold of-you don't remember Pat Jackson, do you? Well, he was very friendly to Joe and he helped him, too, and they got a fellow named Lee Guyer from California. And he agreed to introduce a bill to abolish the poll tax. He was in the House. And he agreed to let us use his office as sort of a place to work in. Well Mr. Guyer was a lovely man. The trouble was that he had cancer of the throat. It was just beginning. But he was a lovely man. And his nephew was his secretary, and we used his office. You know Joe had gotten Mr. Guyer and then he went back down South. I was stupid; I didn't even know how to mimeograph, or anything. We decided to get out a newsheet. And then we had to arrange the hearings. Well Hatton Sumner was the head of the Judiciary Committee, and this bill came under his jurisdiction. And he was from Texas, you see. So we had a hearing. Hatton Sumners of Texas, he was an old man and he was very much opposed to it. But he had the hearing; he was forced to have the hearing someway. Maury Maverick testified. I think Clark Foreman testified. I can't remember all the people that testified. I know we were treated in a very hostile way by the committee, particularly by old man Hatton Sumner, who was just burning with rage and indignation at the idea of this bunch of upstarts. We tried to have mostly Southerners, you see. And I think Miss Lucy testified. I don't believe I testified. I may have testified; I can't remember it. I think they thought I might get mad or something. I don't remember testifying. [After the Southern Conference meeting, you had gone back to Washington; had you set up an office?] Well, I told you we set up an office in Lee Guyer's office, but not until Joe had come up and gotten Lee Guyer to introduce the Bill. [But did you work out of that office pretty regularly?] Oh, yeah. I'd go two or three times a week. Not every day but two or three times a week. I'd go real often, and Joe used to, when he was in Washington. Then Pat Jackson gave a cocktail party to raise a little money to keep Joe going. Joe didn't have any money. And this other thing he'd been with, this Southern Civil Rights, civil liberties, whatever it was, folded up. So Joe really had no money at all, and I remember one morning I went down to Lee Guyer's office in the House Office Building and he was sitting on the steps of the capital. He'd been sitting there all night; he didn't have any place to sleep even. You know, we lived way over at Virginia. But he stayed a great deal with us, too. Cliff liked him very much. They used to have long arguments, you know, because Joe was more radical than Cliff. But they had a great deal of respect for each other. I mean Joe was no problem in the household. He was very gentlemanly person, had lovely manners, but we were hard up. I do remember Pat Jackson gave us a cocktail party for him. That helped some; we got a little money that way. [Now was he active in the Party at that time?] Honey, I haven't the slightest idea. You see the Party . . .If Joe was working with the Party, it was completely . . . He wasn't an open member.