Clifford and Virginia Durr
Clifford Durr and Virginia Foster Durr would become civil rights icons in the South in the late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s and would also be hounded by right-wing political figures.

Clifford was a successful corporate attorney in Birmingham, Al. until the 1930s when he had an awakening to the plight of people less fortunate than himself.

He took work at Reconstruction Finance Company and the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. and, along with his wife, became ardent supporters of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In 1938, Virginia was one of the founding members of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW), an interracial group working to reduce segregation and improve living conditions in the South.

Virginia rose to head the civil rights commission of SCHW by 1941 working primarily on a campaign to abolish the poll tax.

Durr resigned from the FCC in 1948 after dissenting from its adoption of a loyalty oath demanded by the Truman administration. Although Durr did not know it, the FBI had already put him under surveillance in 1942 because he had defended a colleague accused of left-wing political associations.

Virginia ran for the U.S. Senate from Virginia on the Progressive ticket in 1948.

At that time she said, "I believe in equal rights for all citizens and I believe the tax money that is now going for war and armaments and the militarization of our country could be better used to give everyone in the United States a secure standard of living."

His wife's vigorous support for racial equality and voting rights for blacks and their friendship with Jessica Mitford, a member of the Communist Party, made both of them even more suspect. The FBI stepped up its interest in Clifford in 1949, when he joined the National Lawyers Guild. He subsequently became the President of the Guild.

Clifford opened a law practice in Washington, D.C. after leaving the FCC. He was one of the few lawyers willing to represent federal employees who had lost their jobs as a result of the loyalty oath program; he took many of their cases without charging them a fee.

Clifford did not apply any litmus test of his own, choosing to represent both those who had been members of or closely aligned with the Communist Party and those falsely accused of membership. He subsequently represented Frank Oppenheimer, brother of "father of the atomic bomb" Robert Oppenheimer, and several other scientists investigated for disloyalty by HUAC.

The Durrs moved to Colorado so he could work for the National Farmers Union when it became evident that he could not make a living defending those accused of disloyalty.

However his Virginia’s political activities, as a member of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare and the National Committee for the Abolition of the Poll Tax, her past membership in the Progressive Party (including her campaign for governor of Virginia in 1948) and his own political activities caused him to lose that position as well.

The Durrs then returned to Montgomery, Alabama in the hope of returning to a more prosperous, less controversial life. However, Senator James Eastland of Mississippi soon subpoenaed Clifford Durr and his associate Aubrey Williams to a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security investigating the Highlander Folk School, with which both Durrs and Williams had been associated.

It was at this hearing where Clifford was surprisingly permitted to cross-examine former communist Paul Crouch and attempted to throw a punch when Crouch told one of his fanciful stories about Virginia. Clifford largely discredited Crouch during his cross examination.

Clifford’s health and law practice suffered, as he lost most of his white clients while the FBI increased its surveillance of him and those around him.

Clifford continued to practice in Montgomery as counsel, along with a local attorney Fred Gray, for black citizens whose rights had been violated.

At the same time Virginia befriended Rosa Parks who worked for the Durrs doing occasional seamstress work.

Myles Horton, a close friend of Durr, a co-founder of the Higherland Folk school asked Virginia to recommend a black person to attend workshops at the school--the purpose of which was to spark implementation of the recent Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Virginia arranged a full scholarship for Rosa Parks to go to the school in Tennessee.

Clifford and Gray were prepared to appeal the conviction of Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old African-American woman charged with violating Montgomery's bus segregation laws in March, 1955.

However, they elected not to do so when E.D. Nixon, later of the Montgomery Improvement Association, and other black activists decided that hers was not the case to use to challenge the law.

However in December, 1955 when police arrested Rosa Parks for refusing to give her seat to a white man, Durr acted. Durr called the jail when authorities refused to tell Nixon what the charges against Parks were and he and Virginia accompanied Nixon to the jail when Nixon bailed her out.

Nixon and Clifford then went to the Parks' home to discuss whether she was prepared to fight the charges against her. Clifford Durr and Gray represented Parks in her criminal appeals in state court, while Gray took on the federal court litigation challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance.

Clifford continued to represent activists in the Civil Rights Movement, supported by financial support from friends and philanthropists outside the South.

Virginia supported the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) workers by housing and taking care of many volunteers who came to Montgomery to work on voter registration issues.

Both Clifford and Virginia supported the Voting Rights Act, as well as provided legal advice to many blacks facing jail time and lawsuits despite the criticism they received from their white colleagues.

They supported the sit-in movement and Freedom Riders. Virginia and her husband offered sleeping space to students coming from the North to protest.

Clifford eventually closed his firm in 1964. He lectured in the United States and abroad after his retirement. He died at his grandfather's farm in 1975.

Virginia Durr continued to write and speak about political issues and remained active in state and local politics until she was in her nineties.

Virginia Foster Durr died in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on February 24, 1999, at the age of 95.
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