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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 >>

Secret friends of the anti-poll tax movement

Though several powerful southern politicians supported the anti-poll tax movement, they feared that standing for the bill too quickly would jeopardize their careers. Durr explains who maintained a semi-secret alliance with the committee and why they stood where they did.

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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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but how did they get along with the others?] Well, honey, they would say.ll Lister said to me, Honey, when you get the votes, I'll be for you. And like Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon would put his arm around you. You know Lyndon put his arm around all the girls anyway. But Lyndon would say, Honey, I know you're right; I'm for you. I know that the poll tax ought to be abolished, but we haven't got the votes. And as soon as we get the votes, I'll see that we do it. And he did you know. That was the surprising thing about Lyndon, when we got the votes, he did abolish the poll tax. You see Lyndon always thought in terms of you didn't have the votes. And Lister would say perfectly honestly, Virginia, I'd be for you if it wouldn't ruin me in Alabama. [But Lister Hill and Sparkman were New Dealers.] Oh sure. [But they weren't as vicious as later?] Oh they never were really vicious. They filibustered. They didn't go into the nigger business of white women and the awful kind of cesspool stuff that Rankin and Bilbo and Dies dragged out. And then I don't remember Lyndon or Hill or Sparkman going into the thing about treason and communism and all that either. They would have filibustered, because that's what they thought they had to do to stay elected. I stayed on very good terms with Lister and John and certainly was devoted to Lyndon. I was just crazy about Lyndon and Lady Bird. But that old Cotton Ed Smith, you know, he was a nasty old character. I never went near him. You couldn't spend your time . . .he would just insult you. The only time I went to see Eastland you see what kind of reception we got. And it was not only me; it was these ladies from the Women's Society for Christian Service. The other great friend we had was Kefauver from Tennessee. Estes Kefauver you see was with us. I don't know whether Tennessee had abolished the poll tax by then or not. [Was he an early supporter of the poll tax?] Yes, he was great. You see Claude Pepper could support us because they'd abolished the poll tax in Florida. And Estes supported us, and it was during that period they abolished it by State action, you see. And Estes was a great supporter of ours. He was an awfully nice guy. He had a real pretty wife, read hair, she was Scotch, lot of children. Estes drank too much though. Died early I think on account of that. He was a very nice-looking fellow, very nice fellow, just lovely, brave guy, good guy, and he supported us. We didn't ever expect to get any Southern support. When we got Claude Pepper and Estes Kefauver we thought we were just terribly lucky. I can't think of any Southern Senators or Southern Congressmen that supported us during that period. When Jim Folsom got elected governor of Alabama, he supported us, but he couldn't . . . He was trying to do it through the State. But he was against the poll tax. [Arnold Ellis came later?] He came later. He was for it I believe, but I never knew him. You see we were trying to . . . Of course the Byrds there in Virginia. Senator Byrd was 1000% against us. Carter Glass, oh and Howell Smith-you know I lived in his district. He was like an old buzzard picking over a carion. He was a horrible old man, I thought. He was always doing something; he was even against the whole New Deal. He was against everything. [You felt that you were in a position of power with the New Deal behind you. Did the Southern Congressmen feel that they were in a weak position. Were they fighting back or some thing?] Well they were just terrified of the race issue. You see they translated immediately the fight to against the poll tax into the race issue. And they were terrified politically of the race issue still, you see. The Negro had no right, couldn't vote, had not power whatever. And the unions were coming South and they were having these integrated unions, you see. The CIO integrated the unions, you see. They used to have segregated unions. They thought the poll tax would give all these people the right to vote-the unions and the Negroes and all these new labor people. The world would turn over.