It is amazing how people change their strongly held views that they were taught since birth. Parents and culture shape individual values that stay with people for most of their lives and are very hard to transcend. Virginia Durr is one of those people who was able to rebel against the mores that was taught to her since birth. Virginia was born in 1903 in Birmingham, Alabama, as one of the more aristocratic members of the community who had elitist views about the lower classes. White people who were poor are considered trash and black people were considered to be on the same level. This was a time when it was publicly acceptable to say the Klan were noble heroes saving white women from black savages. It is somewhat surprising that her legacy was as a great ally to the civil rights movement.
Her views started to change after noticing the cognitive dissonance about black people; how could they be excellent caretakers while being savages at the same time. During her time at Wellesley College she was forced to interact with black people, thus changing her views entirely about an entire culture she was bought up to view as inferior. After leaving college she met her husband, a Birmingham native who was a lawyer, and began her journey as a social justice advocates. Her work began recognizing the economic problems that were plaguing people in Birmingham during the great depression. In that capacity she helped to send milk to low-income kids, visit miners who developed illnesses due to work place conditions, and drive Red Cross workers into the countryside to help deliver services. Clifford, her husband, would find employment in the Roosevelt administration regulating public broadcasters as part of the New Deal.
The Durrs moved to Virginia where they became part of the wide circle of New Deal culture. By the end of the 1930’s Virginia founded the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, a civil rights organization that united black people, white people, unionist, and other social justice warriors fighting the poll tax, a then legal way used to keep black people from voting. Her dedication to the cause of social justice came at a price; she was called to testify in front of the senate for associating with Communist. Opponents of civil rights often claimed that the movement was infiltrated by Communist in an effort to discredit the cause. Among the other obstacles that she faced was being considered a traitor to her race and class by her fellow southerners. In the early 1950’s the couple moved back to Birmingham and set up a law firm. Because of their reputation in the civil rights movement white clients shunned them so most of their clients were poor blacks who could not afford to pay for their services. Her activism connected her to the Montgomery civil rights community where she was asked to recruit people for training for future civil rights battles. She recommended Rosa Parks to receive training at the Highlander Folk School. After her famous arrest Virginia’s husband Clifford help bail her out.
The lesson of being able to transcend malicious thoughts that are implanted in the brain is an important lesson Making It to The Finish Line instills in the community. This requires hard work and dedication to in order to succeed, but it can be done. For more information on Virginia and other great Americans check out the source below.
Dreier, P. (2012). The 100 greatest Americans of the 20th century: A social justice hall of fame. New York: Nation Books.