Documenting the American South Logo
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 >>

Growth of the anti-poll tax committee

In the early days of the anti-poll tax committee, the organizers faced a dearth of political, economic, and material support. Durr explains how various friends helped them overcome those obstacles.

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

The point I'm making is, the facts were absolutely incontrovertible. That is, that since the disenfranchining provisions of the early 1900's starting with Mississippi, that the vote in the South had gone down, down, down-both black and white. The South at this time, which was about 1938, you see, was just absolutely, had this extremely small vote. The defense of the people who were arguing against all this was that people in the South just weren't interested in voting. They just didn't care about it. You know, there was just a complete lack of interest. I'm sure this was 1938; I haven't gotten that date mixed up. But I don't think the hearing was actually held until sometime in 1939. Anyway Hatton Sumners never would have them printed. Clark Foreman testified and Maury Maverick testified, and a whole lot of other people testified. But Hatton Sumners never would print the hearings. They just absolutely refused to print the hearings. And Hatton Sumners was a man of so much prestige and power in the House, you see. You see the Southerners controlled most of the big . . .they'd stayed there so long duing to the fact that they had this small vote. They stayed there forever and a day and so they got old and older and older. They were 70 and 80 and on and they'd just been in Congress 30 and 40 years. And they just ran the show. So we never got that one printed. Well Lee Geyer would make speeches in the House for it. We were still working out of his office. The thing that helped us a great deal was, up above us in the building the old House Office Building, was the Toland Committee. Now that was the committee of Congress that was investigating agriculture and Appalachia and poverty. There were a lot of really brilliant young fellows on it who were just out of school and were very full of zeal. They were really dedicated. They were going to eradicate Appalachia's, the poverty of Appalachia. And I believe Toland himself came from West Virginia. He was a Congressman. These boys were very bright and were very nice to us. You see, there was just such a varied group that worked in the poll tax office; we'd pick up here there and yonder people who'd come through town or . . .I was sort of the only one that was more or less there on a . . . Wilbur Cohen's wife used to help out. Wilbur Cohen's the one, you know, who . . . He was the author of the Social Security work. Her name was Eloise. She was a very pretty, red-headed girl, and she used to come in and work. There were a lot of volunteers that would come in and out. But it was not very well organized because we would send out material and try to interview Congressmen, but it was a very amateurish organization. No one working full time except Lee Geyer's nephew, who was Lee Geyer's secretary. And at least he would take care of the mail. And he would occasionally answer letters that had to be answered. He was named Geyer, too, but I can't remember his name. He was a very nice boy. But then these boys from up in the Toland Committee they began to take an interest in it and particularly Palmer Webber. He had just graduated from the University of Virginia where he had been a very brilliant scholar and had thought he was going to get a Rhodes scholarship, but didn't. And he got very much interested in the anti-poll tax fight, because you see he came from Virginia, that had the lowest number of voters of anybody. You know the Byrd machine was in entire control. And he had a friend whose name was David Carliner, and he'd been to the University of Virginia with Palmer. But he'd had some trouble, whose nature I forget at this point. And he didn't have a job, so he agreed to come in and run the office. He's now a big-shot lawyer in Washington. Have you-all ever been to see him? He won't give you anything? Anyway, he was a very nice fellow and smart as he could be. But the thing was that these boys all knew things like mimeographing, you know, the technical things that I didn't know from Adam. We'd send out the poll-tax news. At this date I can't tell you the exact dates. And you know so much of this stuff we threw away because we moved around, you know. You see, we never thought of ourselves, that we were ever going to be interviewed for history forty years later. We were desperately trying to pay the postage, not take up too much room in Mr. Geyer's office.