Early Years and Journalism Career
Leon Sebring Dure Jr. was born on May 26, 1907, in Macon, Georgia. His parents, Leon Sebring Dure, a prominent businessman, and Kathleen McGregor Dure, were living separately by 1920. On January 15, 1929, in Bibb County, Georgia, Leon Dure Jr. married Katherine May Macken. They had two sons, Leon Jr. and Kendrick.
After receiving a BA from the University of Georgia in 1927, Dure got his start in journalism with the Macon Telegraph. During his rise from reporter to city editor to managing editor, the Telegraph included a separate section covering news of the black community and he later described it as one of the first southern newspapers to accord African Americans the courtesy titles “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” and “Miss.” From the autumn of 1933 through May 1935 Dure was a White House correspondent for the Washington Post. He also served breifly as the secretary-treasurer of the White House Correspondents’ Association beginning in April 1935.
In the summer of 1935 Dure became city editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and in September of that year when the managing editor resigned, Dure succeeded him. During World War II (1939–1945) he took a leave of absence to serve as an intelligence officer with the Army Air Forces, part of the time in the Burma theater. He attained the rank of major. Dure resigned from the Richmond Times-Dispatch in the autumn of 1945 following a dispute with the publisher about how to cover the court-martial of a member of a prominent Richmond business family. Early in 1946 he moved to North Carolina to become executive news editor of the Twin City Sentinel in Winston-Salem. When the paper’s female sportswriter was denied access to the male-only press boxes at the state’s major universities, Dure’s threat to withdraw sports coverage convinced them to admit her. He strongly editorialized against the tobacco workers’ strike in 1947. Dure retired in 1949 and returned to Virginia, where he acquired East Belmont, a farm in Albemarle County. In 1957 he was a visiting instructor in journalism at Washington and Lee University.
Freedom of Association
Dure’s most significant involvement in public life began early in 1958, when he formulated a constitutional and philosophical concept that he believed could resolve the state’s and the South’s dilemma of how to respond to federal court orders to desegregate public schools. Virginia officials had initially reacted to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 and 1955 Brown v. Board of Education rulings with a local option plan that would have provided state tuition grants for children to attend private schools. In 1956, however, the state’s political leadership adopted a policy of Massive Resistance and threatened to close schools to prevent desegregation. Two years later, with the collision of federal and state authority imminent, Dure thought that the new freedom that he had adduced from the Bill of Rights, the freedom of choice of association, provided a way out of the crisis.
The core of Dure’s argument was that freedom of association carried with it a corollary freedom not to associate. To him it was a natural extension of individual freedom of choice and liberty. A generous allotment of tuition grants to parents formed its practical aspect. In a tireless campaign, Dure promoted the concept through scores of letters to newspaper editors, guest editorials and columns, a pamphlet entitled A Way Out of Our Dangerous School Situation (1958) that he had printed and distributed at his own expense, and articles in the Georgia Review in 1961 and 1964 and in the Virginia Quarterly Review in 1962. His argument received some early editorial support, but it also drew questions and criticism. Some critics saw in it potential unconstitutional support for religious education; others perceived in it a threat to drain needed funds from public schools; and lawyers for the plaintiffs in the desegregation cases saw it as a public subsidy of private prejudice. In 1962 the freedom of choice of association drew its most telling critique from the University of Virginia law professor Hardy Cross Dillard, who correctly predicted that federal courts would rule that Dure’s new right was merely an unconstitutional perpetuation of racial segregation.
During the turbulent spring of 1959, after the governor pulled back from defiance of the federal courts, Dure’s ideas occupied the center of public attention. Numerous legislators and public figures extolled his proposal as the solution to the desegregation problem in Virginia and other southern states. He was the lead witness before the special legislative commission that devised the plan that replaced Massive Resistance, and in a key address to the General Assembly the governor employed the language and concept of freedom of choice of association to describe his plan of limited desegregation. Freedom of choice became the rationale for school desegregation policy for the next decade.
Dure’s preference for segregation was grounded in a paternalistic racism that rested on a belief that elites would inevitably rule. By early in the 1960s, he began to fear that his ideas had not been implemented in the way that he thought best and that he had been used by various political figures. In Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (1968), the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the concept of freedom of choice as a school desegregation policy, and in February 1969 federal courts forbade state tuition grants for use in segregated private schools. Dure nevertheless appealed to the commission revising the state constitution in 1968 to include in its statement of basic rights a section protecting freedom of assembly and association. The commissioners rejected it.
After 1969, Dure returned to retirement. He told an interviewer in 1975 that he thought his campaign had accomplished something. In 1980 he moved to Fort Myers, Florida, where his wife died on March 9, 1987. Dure died in Fort Myers on October 26, 1993, after a fall. His remains were cremated.