Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
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 >>

Poor manners among the opposition

Though Durr generally avoided meeting with those who vehemently opposed her political stances, when a group of Methodist women from Mississippi came to Washington, she found that she could not decline their request that she accompany them as they met with James Eastland. During the meeting, he behaved in a less-than-gentlemanlike manner, embarrassing and shocking the ladies.

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

Did you ever have to deal with Dies or with Rankin or with any of the people that were opposing you so politically? Well I had to deal with that Jim Eastland. I told you about taking the sweet Southern ladies in to see him. Well I had to deal with him. You see these women, the Women's Society of Christian Service of the Methodist Church was one of our greatest supporters. Anyway, they are very great church women. And there was a Mrs. Arrington in Mississippi who was the head I believe of the Women's Society for Christian Service of the Methodist Church. So she came to Washington and came by the poll tax office, anti-poll tax office, and we'd had some correspondence with them and they'd gotten some of our literature. And she had about 10, 8 or 9 women with her. And it was hot summer. And they were all dressed like the ladies in Mississippi and Alabama dress, which I think is very pretty, you know voile, light voile dresses, white shoes, white gloves, white beads, white hat, and flowers on their hat. And all I thought looked very lovely, all looking very Women's Society. So we told them who to go to see. They wanted to go to the Methodist Building for lunch, and we all arranged to go there for lunch. See the Methodist Building was close by. And you know it was segregated for ages. They wanted to integrate that. I think we tried to find some Negro girl, woman or girl to take with us because the ladies from Mississippi wanted to integrate the Methodist Building. They thought it was terrible the Methodist Building wasn't integrated, and it wasn't for years and years. They were really remarkable-I can't remember any of them's names except Mrs. Arrington. But she was a very ladylike person. But they wanted to go to see Jim Eastland. Now this is an absolutely true story, which is a nasty story, but its a true story. So we went to his office and of course . . .I didn't want to go with them. I knew what a cotton-mouth moccasion he was, you know. And by that time I had come to absolutely hate his guts. So I didn't want to go with them, but they insisted that I go because for one thing they didn't know how to get around. So we walked in Jim Eastland's office and his secretary, whoever he was, saw these nice ladies from Mississippi all dressed up you know, and he ushered them right in to Jim Eastland. There he was sitting at his desk, and he did rise when they came in and shook their hands. She his sister-in-law, Mrs. Eastland's sister-in-law was a great worker in the Women's Society for Christian Service, in fact I think she was the secretary. Mrs. Eastland's sister was a great worker in the Women's Society for Christian Service of the Mississippi Church. They all knew her. I think she was the secretary of the Women's Society for Christian Service of the Methodist Church. Anyway she was very active in it, and they all knew her, and so there was something said about your sister-in-law, great friend, and so forth. And everything started off very pleasantly until they came to the poll tax. And then do you know what he did? Here were these Southern ladies mind you, dressed up with white, you know, the epitome of the Southern . . .He jumped up, his face turned red, you know, he's got those heavy jowls like a turkey, and they began to turn purple, and he screamed out, I know what you women want, black men laying on you! I'm telling you that's exactly what he said. That is the identical words he said. The thing that was . . . the reaction was so funny. Well we left very promptly I can assure you and went to the Methodist Building for lunch, and I don't think the black lady went with us, whoever she was. But the thing that was so embarrassing to these women was that their Senator had said such a thing, you know, they were trying to apologize to me. You know, they would say, well now Mrs. Durr you know the Eastlands, I don't know whether you know it but they don't come from South Mississippi. They come from North Mississippi. Well that didn't mean anything to me. I said, what do you mean. They said, they come from the hill country, didn't come from the delta, you see. And they are not really, well, ah, they have made their money quite recently. In fact, what they were saying was, they were poor white trash that just made money, that Jim Eastland was common as pig tracks, and this is just the kind of remark he would make. But they were so emparrassed for him, if you know what I mean. They kept apologizing to me, you know. They couldn't imagine that a Mississippi Senator would say . . . he got up and turned just as red as, "I know what you women want, black men laying on you." And can you imagine? Well that's the way it used to go. That was the whole burden of John Rankin's speeches, you know.