The variety of people interested in the anti-poll tax movement
After the death of Lee Geyer, the anti-poll tax committee had to reevaluate their strategy, look for a new sponsor, and begin gathering more support, but in the process, they discovered that they had friends in some places they had never suspected. They also learned that some of the people they had assumed would assist them refused to do so.
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
But Lee Geyer died. He finally died of this cancer of the throat. And then the big question was, who to get to sponsor the bill. By this time you see we had a board, composed of . . .the labor unions were supporting us, and the NAACP, and the Negro Elks, and a lot of the Christian organizations, the church organizations, the Methodists and the Baptists. You see on capital hill there was a real big lobby group, that lobbied all the time. Of course it wasn't so big on those days as it is now, I'm sure. And all the liberal organizations, like the Quakers and the Baptists and the Methodists and the NAACP and Mrs. Mary McLeod Bethune's organization-the Council of Negro Women. And the newspaper men-they were our great allies and helps. A lot of us would have lunch together every day. It was lots of fun, one thing, you see, because the Hill was a lot of fun. The funny stories and what was happening on the Hill and the struggle between the isolationists and interventionists. And then see most of the liberals were interventionists until then they had the great split you know when they had the Nazi-Soviet pact, and then a lot of the extreme left-wingers went over on the other side. And then that developed into real fights, I mean yelling and screaming and almost tearing each other's hair out. But the Hill was a very lively place in those days and loss of fun. And I can't remember all the names of the newspaper men that helped us-oh, Izzy Stone of course. Izzy was absolutely wonderful. And he was working for the Nation, the PM then. Izzy was a great newspaper man, as you know. You see the TV and radio hadn't come on then, and there weren't a lot of TV and radio people about. It was the newspapers. [What kind of support were you getting in Congress at this time?] Well, it was still ina state of flux. We were trying to get . . . You see what we were representingin the Board of the Southern, I mean of the Poll Tax Committee-and by the way at one meeting, whether it was in Chattanooga or in Nashville, I believe, they, we decided to make the National
Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax separate from the Southern Conference. In other words, the Southern Conference would be a member of it, but it would be no longer be the Poll Tax Committee of the Southern Conference. It would be the National Committee to abolish the Poll Tax. And I think George Norris suggested . . .You see George Norris had become our great champion in the Senate and he was one of the most wonderful characters that ever lived, a perfectly angelic man. He was from Nebraska. He's one of the greatest men that ever served inthe Senate. He was just a monument of integrity. You see he was trying to get the TVA nationalized and turned into . . . He was a great advocate of the TVA power. And that's one reason he was so interested in getting rid of the poll tax, because he felt that the people in the TVA area didn't have a right to vote on whether you could get the TVA or not. But he was a white-haired old gentleman and he was absolutely a lovely man, just a wonderful, wonderful man. And then in the House Maury Maverick you see had been beat and was now mayor of San Antonio. So we were trying to get someone who would be respectable and carry . . . Of course by this time the anti-Communist business had started. [Now was that why you separated the Poll Tax Committee from the . . . ?] No, it was just . . . The poll tax committee had gotten bigger than the Southern Conference. In other words, the National Committee against the poll tax was a national organization by that time and much larger because the labor unions realized that they were not going to get anywhere in the South until they got their people to voting. Then the church people thought it was the right thing to do. And the NAACP and the Negro organizations had joined us. Of course they thought the Negroes were held in bondage until they got the vote. And a lot of the women's organizations-the only one that never would support us at all was that Women's group or women's party or something. They never would help us at all. They were all-Alice Paul and all those women. They were just-I don't know what made them the way they were because they wouldn't do a thing for us, thought we were totally unimportant. They were working to get women's rights. It was that bill, you know, under the constitution, to give equal rights to women in everything. I
thought they were the most unpolitical people, in the sense of reality. That's all long gone past now. But anyway they never did give us any help. University women didn't give us very much help either because they're always very cautious and had to have meetings and pass ten resolutions before they'd do anything. The League of Women Voters was the same way. They believed in it but they didn't want to take action until they'd had the next meeting. Anyway they never gave us much help. The help we got came from the Roosevelt coalition, which was the unions, the civil liberties and civil rights organizations, and the churches. And then you see we got an awful lot of support from the White House itself. [Who were the civil rights organizations that you were in touch with at that time?] Well, there was the NAACP. There was a Negro Elks; they were powerful. Then there was the ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union.