How the growing anti-Communist movement affected the Roosevelts
Durr describes more about her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt, the work Roosevelt did, and the ways Roosevelt tried to connect with others. She also talks about how the rise of red-baiting affected relationships among the administration and its allies. Durr later explores the growing division between Roosevelt and the radicals in greater depth.
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
- VIRGINIA FOSTER DURR:
Well you asked me what the feeling in Washington was at the end of the war. Of course the great emotional outburst came at the death of Roosevelt. In spite of the people on the inside of the White House knowing that he'd had a stroke and was ill, the
public at large, of which I was one, thought he was just as happy and healthy and cheerful as always. And you see they cancelled all the public social events at the White House during the war, so you didn't go to the big receptions and shake his hand face to face. And that was all cancelled due to the war. They thought that was too extravagent, which of course it was. But up until that time you know, you would go at least once a year to the White House and you'd see the President face to face, shake his hands, and he always looked just the picture of health. How he stood up those long hours, I'll never know, whether he was resting against a frame. And Mrs. Roosevelt always looked like the picture of health, you know, she was very tall and angular, but she had this beautiful complexion and lovely eyes. I've told you this before. Because I was so fond of her, she was pretty to me, just because I liked her so much. And she used to wear, I thought, terrible clothes. Poor thing, she just dressed very badly. She didn't pay much attention to her clothes, I don't think. I think she just wore what decently covered her. But then she would add such add ornaments. I remember one night at the White House she had a thing of tigers' teeth around her neck. You know the President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, had shot a tiger and he had made a necklace of tiger's teeth. Well Mrs. Roosevelt was wearing the tiger's teeth as a great evening ornament. It was the most awful looking thing you've ever seen in your life. If you can imagine what tiger's teeth look like. And she had an air of having forgotten herself in a way, if you know what I mean. I never felt that I had got intimate with Mrs. Roosevelt in the sense of Elaanor and Virginia, really warm friendship. But I've got some of her letters scattered around, if we could ever find them. I think they're here, there, and yonder, where she writes me, you know, as Dear Virginia, and they're very warm letters, I mean friendly warm letters. Of course I always called her Mrs. Roosevelt, and so there was never really intimate, warm relationship of friendship. I just liked her so much because she had such a charming manner, and I thought she was pretty, nice looking, you know. Then she would laugh. She had a very cute sort of funny, high-pitched laugh. Of course you know
she was crazy about Aubrey Williams because they worked together in the NYA. And she was always calling Aubrey in and Mrs. Bethune. They were two of her strong supporters-to rescue somebody or do something somewhere. And Aubrey was just crazy about her. I don't think she was non-sexual in that she was an aphrodite or a neuter, but you felt that she had literally forgotten herself. It's a curious transference. Whatever she was interested in, whatever she was talking to you about was the most important thing in the world. And she made you feel that her whole being was concentrated on getting rid of the poll tax or helping the sharecroppers or coming South and doing what she could. She would often be repetitive and tell the same little tale over with the same little laugh. I remember she told us all a million times, all the Southerners, that she was, her grandmother came from Georgia and was a Bullock. Well that's from Bullock County where my family came from you know, down here below Tuskegee, so I knew all about the Bullocks and Bullock County, and General Bullock. But I bet she told that tale fifty times. You know she was trying to identify with the Southerners. And the ones that she was the warmest to, the young Southerners, were the young people who were in the Southern Conference Youth Committee. And then they had something called the Southern Negro Youth Conference or something. Anyway, the young Southerners, the ones that she kind of adopted, she would have them to the White House you know and have them sleep in the best guest rooms. You can imagine the shock like a boy from Tennessee or Texas or country boy like Howard Lee who hadn't been out of Paris, Arkansas, sleeping in the White House. He got quite a thrill out of it, quite a shock. Tex Dobbs, whose family came from Texas, who was an awful good-looking, attractive boy but you know she'd take them to the . . .And then the young women too, she would pick them up and take them to the White House. But that all broke up, you know, the intimacy there I mean, having them to the White House and defending them before committees for being reds of radicals.