Durr's disappointment and disillusionment
By 1975, Durr felt disappointed in the American public. She had watched her friends suffer and sacrifice to win equality and voting rights for all citizens, and the nation had in turn elected men like Richard Nixon. She explains that she had never had the optimism and faith in people that Clifford had possessed, and her experience since concluding her activism had confirmed her suspicions.
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
I suppose the thing in my life that has been the hardest to accept and to rationalize and to be cheerful about-I try to make the best of it-is the fact that after all the struggles we did to get the vote and after all the struggles we did to get women to vote, we got Lurleen Wallace and George Wallace. I mean here the people of the South were freed, they did get the right to vote. The black people got the right to vote, the white people got the right to vote. And even they come down and illiterates got the right to vote, under these federal laws. And who do they elect? They elected some of the sorriest characters in the world. This has been the thing that I've had to cope with as well as I possibly can. I hate to think the Southern people are just naturally stupid. But it seems to me that for generations they just cut their own throat. They just seem to have a perfect genius for cutting their own throats. Here they march off to the Civil War not owning a slave, you know, and millions of them go off and get killed. For what? You know, because somebody else could own slaves and have a big white plantation and be rich. And what was it to them? Not a damn thing, and yet they go off and die for it. Well, they're doing the same thing; here they get the vote; they're free. And who do they vote for. They vote for George Wallace or they vote for
some guy in Mississippi, who is. . . You know, you can't believe it. If you say that you can't believe that the Southern people are just naturally stupid. Or course they vote for pretty lousy characters in North, East, South, and West, too. But it seems to me in the South we can pick some of the most.. Look at Jim Eastland. He gets elected year after year after year in Mississippi when the people in Mississippi can vote. Now how can you figure that one? What's your explanation of it? [I don't have one.] Well, you've got to have some. I mean there must be some reason for it. Do you think it's because they just get the wrong information? Anyway, if you had the rich and the poor. Say the rich voted for one group, and the poor.. But it's not that at all. The poor vote for the rich. And this is the thing that I think makes it so puzzling about the South: that is the poor man will vote for the guy that representing the rich man and fooling him by saying he's for them when he's not for them at all. [It obviously has a lot to do with education. People get the vote but then they don't know how to use it. It's manipulative; it's bought.] Yes, but there're millions and millions and millions of people in the South. Now they're free. The women are free to vote. And the men are free to vote. And the blacks are free to vote. Eighteen-year-olds are free to vote. I think it's because people are beginning . . . I think they are confused and maybe they're ignorant. But I think people have lost faith in democratic government. I don't think that they think it makes any difference who you have, that you're still going to have a few rich men controlling everything anyway. I mean I don't think . . . they've gotten to the point where they think democratic governemtn is useless; they're helpless with it. This is the sad thing, I think. They don't think there's any use in voting. When you fight, bleed, and die to get the eighteen-year-old vote and about 2% of them vote. No, I think we're living in an age where between the movies and the TV and the papers and all, the people want a decent life. In other words, they want a house and they want an automobile and they want godd medical service and they want good education. They see all
these things they want. They want to take trips. And they don't think that politics has anything to do with that. Because they promise and promise and in the end they don't get the things, so what good does it do? Now that's my theory; what's your theory? [Well I pretty much agree. I think people just feel absolutely powerless. And the vote doesn't mean that much.] Well that's what I feel. You know you go out and urge them to vote, and they say, what good does it do? Now the unions . . .Meany'll get up there and make a speech about the unemployment, this, that, and the other. But I can't see the unions all exercised about all the people that are out of work. I haven't lost faith. But there's a reason and that is that I think people will eventually wake up. I think it takes such terrific suffering to make them wake up. It's what I feel so bad about in this country: I think it's going to have to get so much worse before it's going to get better. And my fear is we're going to become a corporate state with just tremendous repressions. And how long that will last, I don't know. I have no idea. I just wish I knew. Cliff, you know, had much more faith in people. He had a faith in their intrinsic goodness, or their intrinsic worth, if you know what I mean. You see he thought I was a snob, and you think so too I think, a little bit. [Sometimes.] What he thought was that I wanted to help people. I really hated to see people suffering. I wanted to help people. But he thought that I really still believed that some people were a whole lot better than other people. And he didn't think it was so much on a class basis. He didn't think it was because of money or clothes or social position, but he thought that, you know ignorant people and people who had had no education and who I thought acted in a dumb way. He thought I was contempuous of them. This is something I have to check in myself. [Well I don't think it's contemptuous to ask why. It seems to me that all you do is question.] Well he had more faith actually in people than I do. And he had much more tolerance of them. I'd say well why in the name of God would he do anything as stupid as that? You know go and vote for this Dixon fellow, this Republican, you know who's absolutely nothing, a tool of whoever pays him, whether
its corporate interests . . .And he said, well, what can you expect of the fellow? What does he know any different? Who ever told him any different? What has he ever learned? What does he get? And he had much more tolerance. I get mad, you know. I want to shake them and pull their ears and say, stop being so dumb and cutting your own throat. It didn't do you any good to go off and fight for the slaves civilization; what good is it going to do you to fight for the corporate civilization? It's the same thing, except, you know, not legal. And another thing is, too, he thought you had to be very gentle with people-you couldn't antagonize them, make them mad. What do you feel about the Southern people? You grew up among them. You came from down there on the borders of Mississippi and Tennessee. Now I find the people in Elmore County like the man that was here this morning, on a personal basis they're as nice a people as I have ever known in my life. They are pleasant; they are courteous; they are gently. And they'll help you out. When Cliff died, they came around in droves. They are nice people. On a personal basis, I like them very much. And I like living here because it's so pleasant. And yet they'll vote 94% for Richard Nixon. This is something I just can't explain. It's beyond me. Or they'll vote 98% for George Wallace. [Because Richard Nixon makes them believe that he's for the little man.] How could he have made them believe that?