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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 >>

Keeping peace within the anti-poll tax committee

Though Durr played an important role in negotiating among the various factions that maintained a precarious truce in support of the anti-poll tax lobby, she insists that she had no real power.

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.

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And then we heard that a man named VitoMarcantonio, who represented the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, and the American Labor Party-he was elected on all three slates-that he had a bill. Well, I won't go into Marcantonio and how he blew up at us. It ended up with Vito Marcantonio introducing the bill. We became great friends in spite of . . . Because I also became a great friend of his wife, who is a lovely lady, whom he brought down to Washington. She was a tall New England girl. Anyway I became devoted friends to Vito Marcantonio and oddly enough, he and Cliff did too because they had a passion for Jefferson. They would quote Jefferson to each other by the . . . Marcantonio had all Jefferson and all Madison. He was both radical and democrat-I mean democratic in his views. And he was a very attractive man. He was small, you know, and very Italian and extremely vehement. Of course he was considered to be the big radical in the House. So a lot of people were scared to death for Marcantonio to introduce the bill. But you see they never could get it out of committee. They would have to sign it out. And we passed it. Marcantonio got it through the House time and time again-I can't remember how many years he got that bill signed out of committee and passed through the House. Well you see a lot of Republicans backed it because it'd create friction within the Democratic Party. I mean it wasn't all just pure idealism at all. But then it would always get filibustered to death in the Senate, you see. So then we get up to the time when the war is starting and big fights between the isolationists and the interventionists you see. And I was a big interventionist you know; I was all for intervening. And that created . . . Decca, you see was living with me then. And Esmond was just going off to the war to fight for England. And so that created some problems, particularly with the Lewises, but I really think that there again the fact that I was inconsequential if you know what I mean. I mean to say, I had no real power except getting on with all these assortment of people who were backing me. But the power, you see, lay in the unions, lay in the big organizations. [But you were sort of a key figure.] I was a key figure, yes. And I think I did a lot of good. [Does that mean that all the different factions would come to you?] Sure. [at one time or another so that you were sort of buffeted between them?] Yes, sure, that's right. But the point was that I myself had no power. No organization power except through Hugo or through Cliff. But I never could have any power through Hugo because the last thing Supreme Court Justices' relatives can do is speak to them about a case, because they accuse themselves immediately and that means. . . If you were ever known to speak to your brother-in-law about a case that would be the worst thing that could happen. In fact Hugo's dinner parties, and Sister's, were pretty dull because nobody could talk about anything very much because they were always so afraid it would come before the Supreme Court. So we usually talked about roses and tennis. And sometimes Bill Douglas would get, he'd sing hymns, you know he was raised very strictly in the church and he had the most marvelous array of hymns he used to sing. But I myself as a person had no power in that I had no organizational power except through the Southern Conference and the poll tax committee, which were composed of disparate organizations. And I was a key figure, but I didn't have the money, I didn't have any power, I mean organizational power. The only power I had was I was friendly with a lot of people. I got on with them fairly well. I didn't get mad at them. [How were you doing in terms of learning all your political lessons, the battle between the communists and socialists and all?] Well I was very much taken aback by all the meanness that went on, the way people carry on.