Durr Lecture Series Brightens City’s Intellectual Climate

Auburn University at Montgomery’s (AUM) Clifford J. Durr Lecture series continues to attract distinguished thinkers. Studs Terkel and Charles Morgan, Jr. spoke at the 1997 lecture. They told many wonderful stories about their experiences with Virginia and Clifford Durr. Through their anecdote laden speeches, the two long time friends of the Durrs also exposed the frightening fragility of our democracy.

Mr. Morgan described the Durr’s Montgomery home, during the height of the civil rights movement, as a haven, a sanctuary for many young civil rights activists visiting Montgomery at the time. He said that the FBI was at the Durr’s house nearly as often as the postman.

He described how alienated in their own community the Durrs became during those days. As an example, he told of first meeting the Durrs while attending an Alabama Bar Association convention. Mr. Clifford Durr told him he was the first person to speak to them all day.

Mr. Terkel authored the forward to Mrs. Durr’s autobiography, “Outside the Magic Circle.” The award-winning author met Mrs. Durr as a young man in Chicago, during one of her crusades against the poll tax.

This was the sixth annual Clifford J. Durr lecture since AUM initiated the series in the Spring of 1992.

Public Service linked Mrs. Lyndon Baines Johnson, former First Lady and author of “A White House Diary,” and Mr. Tom Johnson, president of CNN, the 1992 inaugural speakers to the Durrs. Mrs. Johnson, then a senator’s wife, became friends with the Durrs in Washington during the Roosevelt Administration. Mr. Tom Johnson (no relation to Mrs. Johnson) served as a White House Fellow during the administration of President Lyndon Johnson.

The Durr Family linked the 1993 speakers. Hugo L. Black, Jr. and Dr. Sheldon Hackney are members of the Durr’s family. Mr. Black was born in Birmingham, the son of Hugo Black, (a U.S. Senator and a U.S. Supreme Court Justice) and the former Josephine Foster (Virginia’s sister). Mr. Black, who received his law degree in 1949 from Yale University, resides and practices law in Miami, Florida.

Sheldon Hackney, married the Durr’s daughter, Lucy Judkins Durr. Dr. Hackney, the former President of the University of Pennsylvania, now serves in the Clinton Administration as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Celebrity, Friendship, And Family Ties linked the speakers at the 1994 lecture. Art Buchwald’s popularity required the lecture to be held in the AUM Physical Education Complex. As a matter of fact, Mr. Buchwald’s celebrity nearly eclipsed the “Reminiscences” by Mr. John W. Durr and Mrs. Zecosy Williams, the other two speakers. Mrs. Williams is a long time friend and frequent companion of Virginia Durr. Mr. John Durr, a career executive with Durr-Fillauer Medical, Inc., is Clifford’s nephew (the son of James J. and Elia Durr).

In the years since Clifford’s death, when in good health, Mrs. Virginia Durr spent her summers on Martha’s Vineyard, a resort island off Cape Cod. On the island, she resided next door to Art Buchwald’s island home. There she must have provided “Outstanding Commentary” for the 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning author.

A Panel consisting of Mr. John Doar, Mr. Ray Jenkins, Mr. Burke Marshall and The Rev. George Washington Carver Richardson, Jr. took questions during the occasion of the 4th lecture of the series in 1995.

This stimulating free-for-all question and answer format allowed the informed audience an opportunity to direct questions to panel members. Both, Mr. Doar and Mr. Marshall formerly served in the post of U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights: they offered a national interpretation. Mr. Jenkins, a past editor of the Montgomery Advertiser, and Rev. Richardson, the pastor of the Missionary Baptist Church in Montgomery, provided a local view.

Washington Politics And Enduring Friendship were the links connecting the 1996 lecturers. John Kenneth Galbraith and Johnnie Rebecca Carr met at this lecture for the first time. Each described contributions to the Durr legacy from their unique perspective.

Dr. Galbraith, world-renowned economist, Harvard professor, author, and advisor to Presidents, talked about his friendship with the Durrs during the “New Deal” days of Roosevelt’s Administration. Mrs. Carr, a life-long friend of Rosa Parks, president of Montgomery Improvement Association and the Montgomery Advertiser 1996 “Citizen of the Year” spoke about the long years of friendship she enjoyed with the Durrs.

This year’s Clifford Durr Lecture came at an opportune time; amidst the unprecedented assault upon the First Amendment to the Constitution by political operatives orchestrating manifested support from the religious right. Through this lecture, Clifford J. Durr’s unquieted voice can be heard echoing words of Thomas Jefferson: “The danger to our liberties lies not in evil men, for they are few.” Rather, it lies “with normally decent men” who are silent when they ought to say, “the things which are being done are wrong, and I will stand against them.”

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Originally Published: 16 April 1997, Montgomery Advertiser.

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