Richard Durham highly respected women.
“He was a feminist,” claimed one of Durham’s long time friends – singer, songwriter and activist, Oscar Brown Jr. “Before there was any National Organization for Women or anything like that,” Brown added, Durham’s scripts advocated “equal pay for equal work” for women. Brown said that in Durham’s award winning Destination Freedom radio drama series (1948-1950), “his characterization of Harriet Tubman or of Sojourner Truth, extolled the virtues of black women.”
The following audio excerpt comes from Durham’s August 15, 1948 “Truth Goes to Washington” show about abolitionist Sojourner Truth.
Durham considered his script about Ida B. Wells to be one of Destination Freedom’s best. Durham described Wells, a fearless and outspoken journalist, as:
“A stormy woman. Restless like a river and a tongue like a flamin’ sword.” Durham’s Wells believed that “resistance to tyranny is obedience to God,” and that a freedom that “allowed the bigoted or the powerful to restrict the freedom of others was no freedom at all.”
A vociferous anti-lynching campaigner, Wells left behind a treasure trove of writings. Therefore, Durham said that he took the “least dramatic license” in documenting her life, and he hoped his radio listeners would connect with Wells’ story of struggle and triumph in a man’s world.
“A good dramatist [tries] to make an audience feel something,” Durham explained. “That’s why the hero has to be intelligent. Whether it’s a woman like Ida B. Wells or [noted educator and activist] Mary Church Terrell, they must appear [to be] very intelligent . . . then people will identify.”
Durham continued championing women’s rights during the 1950s while working as a writer and organizer for the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), one of America’s most progressive labor unions.
Black women and white women were noticeably absent from top UPWA policymaking positions. And women suffered from salary inequities. UPWA local president Addie Wyatt said there was at least a fourteen-cents hourly difference between the pay for men and women. That “differential” disappeared by the late 1950s, progress Wyatt attributed to UPWA’s International Office and Dick Durham.
“Dick seemed to have known the kind of struggles that a little black woman like me would have fighting against the white giants,” Addie Wyatt said. He “was there to encourage you, but also to feed you with information that you’d need so that when you spoke or you wrote you’d have the facts and figures there to work with. So I was always impressed,” Wyatt concluded, “because he was not fearful of our struggle. He embraced it.”
Throughout his lifetime, Richard Durham continued to advocate for positive social change for women and men and all people seeking freedom, justice and equality.
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