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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 >>

Perspectives on Wallace's campaign

Durr frequently reflects on the ways her class, race, and gender affected her interactions with others, and here, she tells how her respectable appearance caused a wealthy southern industrialist to open up to her during a train ride. His worries about Henry Wallace convinced Durr that she was right to support Wallace regardless of how his campaign had ended.

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 now, I'll finish up with Henry Wallace and this actually happened. I couldn't have made it up and this made me feel like it was all worthwhile. I got on a train after the election, after Christmas too. It was the middle of the winter and I was going home for some reason, coming to Alabama and I always rode the day coach. I liked it better than the bus and flying was too expensive and so was a Pullman. So, I got on the day coach and it was raining very hard and it was about eight o'clock at night and a very well dressed man got on. He had pigskin luggage and an English raincoat and he just looked rich. So, he came and sat down by me. I had on the usual sort of dark dress and white gloves and so on. So, he evidently thought that I was respectable enough. So, he sat down by me and immediately began to explain why he was riding the day coach. He hadn't been on a day coach since he was a boy, but his plane had been cancelled on account of the weather and it was too late to get a Pullman and here he was on the day coach. He was going someplace like Aiken, fashionable place, you know, where they played polo. And he had to get off and make an exchange in the middle of the night. But he just made me understand that he hadn't done this in a long time. He asked why I was on the day coach. I said, "Well, it was the only ticket that I could get." (laughter) I didn't say that it was the only ticket I could afford. (laughter) He asked me where I was from and I said, "Alabama" and asked him where he was from and he said he was from North Carolina. So, we began that old southern game of "Do you know So-And-So." So, I knew all the people that he asked me about because I had been to the Cathedral School in Washington and I knew all these girls, or at least knew their names and really did know some of them.So, when he found out that I knew these girls, he put me down as being kosher, he knew that I was safe. I was all right and he could trust me to be a good conservative Democrat, I reckon. So, this is what he told me. He sat by me until he got off to take this other train. He said that he was now the lobbyist for the oil companies, he had been in the State Department and that he had then left it and was now lobbying for the international oil companies. . . .
Do you remember what this man's name was?
As I remember, his name was Rankin. I can't remember his first name. So, hewent on to say about the danger of the Communists and how difficult it was to fight against them and so on. Then he said, "Now, Mrs. Durr, I am going to tell you something that I know you won't believe, but it is the truth. You know, when the war ended, the United States was the only country in the world that had a viable industrial system except the Japanese in Manchuria and the Russians behind the Urals. If we could have destroyed those two systems, the United States would have been completely in control of the entire world because we would have been the only people in the world that had the industrial machinery to provide the goods that people needed." He said, "You know, we had just about persuaded Truman to have a preventive war." Of oourse, they almost tried to do it by going up through Korea to Manchuria. That was MacArthur trying to bomb above the Yalu. I told you about that and all the trouble that we got into about that. So, then the idea was that we should smash those installations behind the Urals, have a preventive war. You see, I had heard all these generals and colonels around me in Virginia talking the same way. Now, Cliff, you heard the same talk didn't you? It was all over Washington. "We've got the atom bomb and they don't. Throw the damn bomb on them and then we will rule the world." He said that they had just about persuaded Truman to have a preventive war. I asked him, "Why didn't he do it?" He said, "Now, I know that you won't believe this Mrs. Durr, but I am telling you the truth, he got scared of Henry Wallace. Now, I don't know if you know of Henry Wallace." I said that yes, I did know of Henry Wallace. He said, "Well, you know, he collected around himself a bunch of scum, pinks, reds, you know, that type. None of them amounted to a hill of beans, just absolutely no power. But you know, it scared Harry Truman and he wouldn't do this as long as Henry Wallace was running that campaign. Not only that, he went out and made a campaign on peace. Of course, after the election was over, he pledged himself to peace." Then, you know, the Russians got the bomb or were getting it. So, he said, "You know, we lost the most golden opportunity that the United States ever had." I said, "Well, that's just awful, isn't it?" (laughter)
That's an incredible story.
That's an absolute truth. I told Cliff the minute I saw him. You see, I fool people. They think that I am just a sweet southern girl who just goes along. . . .
That's what I thought when I married you.
That's right, you sure got fooled, didn't you?