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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Salter and Doris Cochran, April 12, 1997. Interview R-0014. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Segregation in Washington, D.C., and a safe haven at Howard University

Doris remembers segregation in Washington, D.C., where her father held a teaching position at Howard University, as "a sick joke." Howard's campus insulated her family from the worst of the racism, however. Salter remembers the same "umbrella" around Howard, where despite an eminent faculty, he received only a "basic" education because the school needed to educate students from diverse backgrounds.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Salter and Doris Cochran, April 12, 1997. Interview R-0014. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
That must have been a really exciting time to come to the South and Howard, right at the end of World War II. Do you remember any experiences from then that really stick out in your mind?
SALTER COCHRAN:
All of them were negative!
DORIS COCHRAN:
Not all of them.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Coming to Washington, first, and then Weldon, too.
DORIS COCHRAN:
Going to Washington was quite an experience because I had never lived in segregation before that time. It was different. It was surprising in many aspects, but there is a sort of umbrella protection on a campus, you're insulated from reality in a way. That part of it wasn't traumatic, at least, but it was difficult to put together the pieces of the whole picture of segregation. In our nation's capitalߞthat was a big joke, a sick joke. That, as you said, was quite interesting. There were a lot of veterans on campus at that time. Very serious about their work, very dedicated to getting through and doing the best that they possibly could. A lot of them were married with families. So there was a serious atmosphere on campus at that time.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Dr. Cochran, if you could tell about your background.
SALTER COCHRAN:
I was born in Washington, DC, 1922. I was brought up in segregation. However, during my course of secondary education, I went to some of the better public schools in Washington. I graduated from Dunbar High School, which was an outstanding black high school. They've written books about it. My wife's mother finished there in 1914. I finished in 1939. Because of segregation, we had some of the best teachers. Very few didn't have PhDs in this high school, because they had nowhere to go after they got their degrees, because of the separation in education. During the high school days, you were exposed to a whole lot of bigotry within the city. As my wife mentioned, there was an umbrella around Howard and other educational institutions in the area. It was quite an odd situation. You had all these people with these big brains, that could have contributed to society, and they were limited within a certain scope of education in the city. My wife had a godfather who wrote many books, E. Franklin Frazier. Look him up when you go back. Allain Locke in philosophy. And they were all teachers of mine. E. Franklin was a character.
DORIS COCHRAN:
He grew up with my father in Baltimore. E. Franklin Frazier and my father were boyhood friends.
SALTER COCHRAN:
I was exposed to education that was limited in its scope, so I missed some of the things that she was exposed to in growing up. The cultural aspects of living. They didn't stress that at Howard, they stressed basic education, because the student body was constituted of a lot of people from backgrounds even worse than mine, from the South. That made some difference in basic and cultural education. But they did have quite a few people who did stress culture, like Allain Locke and Franklin Frazier. My experience there was enlightening, as far as basic education is concerned. But limited.