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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Durr organizes segregated entertainment

As Durr continued searching for ways to offer relief to the poverty-stricken people living in Birmingham during the Great Depression, she stumbled across the police department and fire department bands. She convinced them to give free concerts and sing-alongs every Sunday, offering free entertainment to white citizens who could not afford to pay for recreation. African Americans could not attend, however, because the events were held in the city auditorium.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Virginia Foster Durr, March 13, 14, 15, 1975. Interview G-0023-2. 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, before I get on that, Virginia was talking aboutthe milk program. Virginia did that herself and put it across. And I can remember your blackmailing the Southern Dairies Association, too. They had quite a reputation as gangsters and here was a chance to reinstate themselves in public esteem a little bit. That's a long story and here is another thing that Virginia didn't mention and I think that it was rather important. She came home one night and was talking about these families who had nothing, not even a dime for the movies. They had no outlet at all and so they were tugging on each other and taking it out. She said that if they just had some kind of recreation and all at once, she broke off the conversation and called the chief of the fire department. She said, "Everytime I pass the fire department down there at Five Points, I hear somebody tooting away in the back on a trombone or a bass horn. Have you firemen got a band?" He said, "Well, sure, we've got a good band down here, but there is nobody around to listen to us." So, Virginia said, "If I get an audience for you, will you put on a concert?" He said that there was nothing the boys would love better. So, the next thing I knew, she was calling the mayor. This was nighttime. She said, "I want to get the city auditorium next Sunday at 2:30." The mayor said, "Well, I don't know what you want with it, nobody else wants it, but you must promise not to tear it down and you can have it." So, then she called the newspapers and announced that they were having this free band concert at 2:30 on Sunday in the city auditorium. Well, we were eating breakfast and the phone rang and it was the chief of police. He said, "What is this about you putting on a concert with the firemen's band? The policemen have got a hell of a lot better band than the firemen." So, Virginia said, "Bring them along, let's see." So, this thing began to build up and volunteers began to show up and these people began to flock in. . . .
We had sing-alongs, too.
Virginia insisted that there be sing-alongs to let the people participate, too. Well, some guy showed up, I think that he was an insurance salesman or something, but he was one of the best masters of ceremonies that I have ever heard and with a line of chatter that was magnificent. So, every Sunday, we were having this free concert and show that really got going about the time that we went to Washington.
Now, who would come to these? Would these be the people that you would be going out to. . . ..
Well, honey, I don't know. Anybody could come. I suppose that anybody did come. Of course, no black people came. The city auditorium was closed to black people and of course, the black people were terribly in want. Now, through Mrs. Bishop, we did go to some black families and they were eligible for relief. As I can remember, the relief, which was two and a half dollars a week, went mostly to these people of Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company and Republic Steel and the big northern corporations who were down there and who had shut off everything. Well, anyway, that was in 1933.