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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 renews her friendship with the Gelders

After hearing about the brutal attack on Gelders in the La Follette hearings, Durr realized that she had known his family while in Birmingham. Durr describes how she reconnected with Gelders and his wife Esther and encountered the pervasive presence of the FBI. She also explains what "Eleanor Clubs" were.

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

But I did go to see Joe Gelders, wherever his office was, and there he was, tall and thin and I thought he was a good looking fellow and he looked like a Jewish prophet, kind of beautiful blue eyes and with lovely manners. Then, he had this darling wife named Esther Gelders, who was Esther Frank and came from Montgomery. She was very lively and cute and very pretty and a typical kind of Southern belle type, chatty and made you feel at home. He had never heard of me before, I think. Anyway, I started to say that I had heard about him at the LaFollette Committee. He said, "Let's go out in the park." I said, "What?" He said, "Let's go out in the park." I said, "O.K." So, we went down in the elevator and sat in the public park. He said, "You know my office is wired." I said, "What for?" He said, "Well, I just know that it is. They've got taps on my line everywhere and you know, everybody that comes in, they know who it is." That was the first time that I had every heard of the FBI, you know, wiring people or tapping them or anything. So, I thought that Joe and Esther Gelders were just a lovely young couple. They were older than I was, but just by a few years. I thought that he was a lovely young man, handsome, charming and well mannered. I told them how terrible it was to come back to Birmingham and find that everybody was so against the New Deal and hating Roosevelt so, hating Mrs. Roosevelt so . . . you know, that was the time of the Eleanor Clubs, they claimed that the blacks had formed Eleanor Clubs and would push people off the sidewalks and they would make an engagement to come and wash or cook and wouldn't come. They were supposedly doing everything to irritate the white folks. And people believed it, you know. Absolutely. I heard it a thousand times. "I'm sure that my cook has joined the Eleanor Club." Or, "I'm sure the washwoman has joined the Eleanor Club. Everyone of them has. You can't walk downtown anymore because they will come up and just push you in the gutter." (laughter) And you know, this really distressed me. This was on the race issue and I hadn't gotten to the race issue yet, but I hated for Mrs. Roosevelt to be so maligned because I was so devoted to her. You see, working in the Democratic National Committee, she used to invite us over to the White House for tea and lunch and that was quite exciting for me and thrilling, you know. Anyway, the union thing wasn't mentioned much, that was too awful. That was just something that nobody spoke of, because you see, they had/finally organized the steelworkers by that time. There had been awful lots of shooting and trouble. But anyway, Joe and ESther were delightful and I was devoted and we agreed to stay in touch and if he ever came to Washington, he would come come by to see me. O.K., now this is about 1936.