Virginia Foster Durr was a monumental champion for civil rights. A white southerner who returned to Alabama in 1951 after twenty years in Washington, she was horrified to revisit the racism of her childhood. In her struggle to understand the South and battle isolation, she wrote hundreds of letters–humorous, sharp and observant–to her friends up north, among them Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, Hugo Black and C. Vann Woodward.
With a keen intellect and an insatiable appetite for justice, Durr wrote from the front lines of the sit-ins, freedom rides and student protests. She was a member of the NAACP and a long-time friend of Rosa Parks, accompanying Parks home from jail the night of her arrest. As one of the few white supporters of the Montgomery bus boycott, Durr lived on the margins of that city’s black and white communities, her home a popular gathering place from government officials, journalists and young activists.
Published on the 100th anniversary of Durr’s birth, her letters offer a window onto a society in turmoil, chronicling the events that transformed the South and the nation. Her writing adds a distinctive glimpse into the day-to-day battles for racial justice at a pivotal moment in American history.
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Virginia Foster Durr (1903-1999) was a monumental champion of civil rights and yet, as a privileged white southern woman, an unlikely one. Freedom Writer is a collection of her letters from across three decades of struggle for the cause of racial equality. In 1951, returning to her native Alabama after a twenty-year absence, Durr was deeply affronted by the same unchecked racism she recalled from her childhood. To help understand the South and battle her sense of isolation, Durr wrote hundreds of letters–humorous, sharp, and observant–to her friends outside the region, among them Eleanor Roosevelt, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, Hugo Black, Jessica Mitford, and C. Vann Woodward.
Durr often wrote from the movement’s front lines–the sit-ins, freedom rides, and student protests. Moving in the same circles as Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon, Martin Luther King Jr., and others, Durr often put her life on the line as a bridge between blacks and whites during dangerous times. Countless details of this personal journey, and the shifting political landscape across which it unfolded, found their way into Durr’s correspondence.
Originally published on the one hundredth anniversary of Durr’s birth, Freedom Writer explores the life and times of a woman whose insatiable appetite for justice immersed her in many of the defining issues and events of the day.
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