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 >>

Finding new supporters for the anti-poll tax bill

Despite the loss of the railway union support, other members of the coalition remained strong. Through the recommendation of Eleanor Roosevelt and others, Claude Pepper of Florida became the sponsor of the anti-poll tax bill for the next several years.

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 by and large, was the coalition between the civil rights people and the labor people at that point pretty strong?] Oh yes. And it was the Roosevelt coalition, if you know what I mean. The coalition that had been in the Southern Conference. And the bonds-there was beginning to be terrible friction-but they were still solid, if you know what I mean. There was, you see, the White House support, great gentlemen like the fellow from Raleigh-Daniels-he was working in the White House. You know, his father was the secretary of the Navy. They owned the Raleigh News-Observer. And he was working in the White House then as one of the White House attaches, or one of the White House aides. He's written a lot of books; he had a wife that writes real funny books. He would come down to get a list of people who were pro and con. Or we'd get a call from the White House: do you know how so-and-so stands? I tell you we had an absolute faith in our own government in those days, at least our Roosevelt administration. There was Mrs. Roosevelt working for us and Mr. Roosevelt working for us, and Tom Cochran working for us and Ben Cohen working for us and Ed Pritchard working for us. We were invited to the White House for lunch. We'd say, Mrs. Roosevelt, we're trying to get Claude Pepper to take on-you see George Norris got beat by some undertaker from out there in Nebraska and we were trying to get Claude Pepper to take on the job of representing the bill in the Senate. It was just, you know, it was heaven to be young, as they say, and it was also heaven to be just across from the White House and have Mrs. Roosevelt have us all to lunch. And she have people like Barry Bingham, who was a big shot, you know, or Mark Ethridge. They all supported us. Maury and Barry were just wonderful to us. We had the White House behind us; we had the government behind us, I mean the administration. So we really were riding high, wide, and handsome. Then the next thing that happened, we got Claude Pepper to represent us in the Senate, to introduce the bill, which he did year after year after year. [Do you remember the first year he did it?] I think it was about 1939. Anyway Claude was just absolutely marvelous. He was a wonderful orator. He'd come from Ashland, Alabama, where Hugo Black had come from you see. He and his wife Mildred were great friends of Sister and Hugo's. And Mildred was very social-minded; she loved fashionable society. I never saw them very much out in society because Cliff and our friends were not the same. But Claude was a really great man. He was a great orator and very honest, very brilliant fellow. And I have never known why he didn't-of course he had some awfully dirty deals done to him in Florida-but I never felt he rose to his full potential. He rose to a pretty high potential. He spoke at Cliff's funeral, you know, I mean at the memorial service. But he's been a devoted friend, and he's a man that I have the highest admiration for. And you se he had gotten rid of the poll tax in Florida, and it had helped him get elected, so this was not an issue that was going to hurt him in Florida, you see.