Freedom Writer
Virginia Foster Durr, Letters from the Civil Rights Years

Edited by Patricia Sullivan

"A chronicle of an extraordinary life."—William Styron


"Patricia Sullivan's editing is skillful. She supplies a useful introduction and explanatory headnotes for each of four chronological sections (1951–1955, 1956–1960, 1961–1965, 1966–1968). Deeply knowledgeable about southern history, African American history, and the intricacies of the New Deal, Sullivan is on solid ground as she explains the times and the correspondents of Virginia Foster Durr, some of whom were prominent indeed (Lyndon Johnson, C. Vann Woodward, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jessica Mitford, and Clark Howell Foreman, for example). Commenting once on her attempts to write an autobiography, Virginia asserted that "all my life is in my letters" (p. 225). Sullivan's edition of Durr's correspondence will find many uses in our classrooms, keeping alive the experiences and opinions of a remarkable witness to history, in her own inimitable words."
—Pamela Tyler, Journal of Southern History

"This is a chronicle of an extraordinary life. I should like to think that it might become one of those indispensable collections, valuable as the record of an indomitable woman and the struggle for American justice in the twentieth century."
—William Styron

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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.
Page count: 454 pp.
Trim size: 5.625 x 8.75


List price: $30.95

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Patricia Sullivan is a professor of history and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina and a former fellow at Harvard University's W. E. B. Du Bois Institute. She is the author of Days of Hope and coeditor of Civil Rights in the United States. Sullivan has been a consultant on many films and documentaries, including HBO's Boycott.