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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 >>

Discerning Lee Pressman's true character

The Durrs befriended Lee and Sonny Pressman, and while Virginia thought Lee was very nice, she says that Clifford, who was able to quickly discern people's characters, distrusted him. She also remembers meeting Lee's immigrant parents and the obstacles he had overcome.

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

Well Lee Pressman had been the general counsel for the CIO and he was a very tall, good-looking fellow from New York and had a very beautiful wife named Sonny and two very beautiful daughters. And he had helped us a great deal in the anti-poll tax committee by getting money from the unions and by getting money from the CIO and he was very close to Lewis and to Murrey too. And I remember during the height of Lee's fame, when he was a big shot, I was up in New England-Sarah and I had taken a trip up to see various people, one of whom was Bob Lamb, who represented the Steel Workers. He'd been a Harvard graduate and he married; you know his wife, when he died, married Corliss Lamont, and she just died last week. Well Bob Lamb's widow married Corliss Lamont after Bob Lamb died, several years after he died. We were visiting the Lambs; we'd gone by to see Bob and Helen Lamb up in New England. Sarah D'Avila, who was secretary of the anti-poll tax committee. Frances Wheeler in the meantime had gotten married and had gone off and Sarah had become the secretary of the anti-poll tax committee. We just took a little trip and went to several people we knew. It was hot and in the summer. The children were down in Alabama or something. I don't know; we just took a little trip, for about a week. So the Lambs told us, or we knew,. . . You see Bob Lamb represented the Steel Workers. This was before the war. Anyway he said that Lee Pressman had a house in the vicinity. So we called him up and told him we were going to come by and see him and Sonny, you see we knew his wife too quite well. You see the New Deal in those days was very much smaller than the great octopus they've got now. And certainly everybody in the labor movement . . . Now Cliff never did like Lee Pressman. He had had some experiences with him that made him dislike him. He thought he was arrogant and went to Harvard and he was always trying to lay down the law. He was on some commissions with him. But I thought Lee was very nice because he helped us so much and got us money you know. And then he was a good-looking fellow and attractive too. And we used to have dinner with them occasionally. And they'd come over to our house, but Cliff never did like Lee. Cliff had a kind of a second sight about people. It's the strangest thing how you know that he would be able when people that everybody else thought were the greatest heroes in the world and were marvelous people and just wonderful, he would be able to detect that they weren't so great after all. The only thing about this story, the interesting thing is, Lee Pressman was one of the great heroes of the labor movement, and he was a brilliant lawyer and he'd won all the big cases you know before the Supreme Court on Harry Bridges and on all kind of labor problems. He was a big shot in Washington, you know. And he was a great hero in the labor movement. Anyway we went over to Lee Pressman's-he met us at this Lamont Village in New Hampshire, wherever we were, and took us over to his house for lunch. Well it was just a simple country house you know up in the hills of Vermont. But there was Lee, tall and tan and white shirt and white shorts and tennis shoes, and there was Sonny, tall and beautiful and tan and white shorts and there the two children were, tall and tan, on horses. So we were going to have lunch on the porch. Lee said to me, you know we have some visitors, my mother and father are visiting us, and my aunt and uncle. And I said, well I'm so delighted to meet them. Well at that point out come these little knomes. They couldn't have been more than four feet tall, and they were all bent over like that. And they were people I would say in their late 60's or 70's-they were old people. But they were all just absolutely bent double. I couldn't believe it at first. So he sat his mother by me at the lunch table. And I said I know you're proud of your son. And then she told me this long story about how she and her husband and the uncle and aunt had come from Latvia or Lithuania and they'd come over here and gone to work in the loft of the East Side. You see they'd been bent over the sewing machine all their lives. And that's why they were so bent over, you see. All their lives they had been bent over the sewing machinex But then she said, my boy went to Harvard. And I said I know you are proud of him. And she went on about, my boy, how brilliant he was and he had such a big job now and how good he was to her. She was just like any mother bragging about her son. But the thing that she said that I remember: and she says, you know we were able to send my boy to Harvard and we did, he had everything everybody else did and do you know, when my boy went to Harvard, he had a coonskin coat. The thing was that herewas this poor old lady you know bent over a sewing machine all of her life who had sent her son to Harvard and gotten him a coonskin coat. Well you see I had this feeling of such admiration for Lee Pressman. I mean the fact that he had come out of a family that had come from Lithuania and Latvia and that he was standing up for the labor people and that he was trying to help the people like his mother and father and aunt and uncle who'd spent their lives over a loft in the East Side. You know I thought that Lee was just great stuff. And I used to aggue about him with Cliff, because Cliff thought he was just arrogant and he never did like him. And you know Lee turned to be an informer.