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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 >>

Finding a "slave mentality" in Weldon, North Carolina

Doris recalls encountering a "slave mentality" in Weldon, North Carolina. She had hoped that she would join a diverse, motivated community in Weldon like those she knew in California, Oregon, and Colorado. She remembers some community leaders who were not using their positions to advocate for racial justice. One such experience with a minister who offered his flock comfort rather than leadership drove her from the church.

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:
What were some of your memories when you came to Weldon?
DORIS COCHRAN:
My mother and father were both trained social workers, and their lives were very broad. As a result, they shared with us the experiences. . .
SALTER COCHRAN:
Can I interrupt? Their lives weren't always like that.
DORIS COCHRAN:
I'm speaking of when I knew them.
SALTER COCHRAN:
Because they were victims of the same things I was, in Baltimore and Washington. Her mother finished the same high school I did.
DORIS COCHRAN:
And Howard University. So, by being social workers and sharing with usߞwe even socialized together, my parents and our generation. I have three siblings. As a result, I think it gave us a step up in understanding society in general, people in general. It was a very interesting life, because we moved from community to community. By my father being a minister, you were welcomed in the community, you didn't have to forge your way through. At the same time, you met so many diverse people. The church in Oakland and Berkeley that my father had was integrated way back in the '30s and '40s. It had a small minority of other races, but they were there. There was an on-going exchange of rabbis and ministers within the ministerial alliances in Oregon, California, and Colorado. So we were really exposed to lots of different types of people. My older sister graduated from U.C.-Berkeley also, and as you might know, the international house there had a reputation of being quite an active, interesting and diverse community. My mother and father used to welcome young people to our home, because they wanted us to know people from all over they world, and they wanted them to be exposed to families in the area. We lived in Berkeley, right near the campus. So that armed me, so to speak, with a feeling that there are other venues, other aspects to life besides that that I had lived. When I came here [to Weldon], at first I had the feeling that there would be a very strong, almost militant group of people that were ready for anything that might come on the horizon. The military had been integrated, and I said, well, things might begin to fall after that. This was in my mind. So coming here, I had that feeling, not realizing that there had been generations of that slave mentality that was still here. I came to understand that the security people needed to go from one day to the next was in that slave mentality. That was a rude awakening for me. I didn't think that that would be the situation when I first came here. I remember that the older physician that was hereߞwe'd met him before, his name was Dr. Tinsleyߞ approached us one time, and said that he didn't believe that there was much hope. I think that he had just given up on the prospect of our races ever getting together, or people having understanding. So he was sort of negative in his whole aspect. I told him, I remember quite clearly, that if we could help just one person, maybe that would be progress. And he looked at me like I was sort of crazy. I guess he thought, here's this young kid that doesn't know what she's talking about. But still, I sort of hung on to that, because, I guess, my family had been so positive, and had instilled in me a positivity that I felt quite strongly about. But little by little, it was revealed to me that it would take a lot to overcome what had preceded us generations back. In the churches, which were the foundation of the black communities, there was a resignation about ever bursting out, ever becoming a part of the community in general. I remember quite a few experiences. One of them had to do with the fact that the minister of the church that my husband's family belonged to was in graduate school at Harvard University with one of my father's brothers. I was enthused about meeting him, and thought, "Oh, boy, this is really going to be something, because I'm sure that this man is going to be a very progressive man." And the very first time I went to see him, and went up to meet him at church, I said, "I have some exciting news. My father's brother and you were at Harvard together in the master's program. He said, "Oh, yes, what was his name?" I said, "Richard Hill." And he said, "Oh, I knew him, I knew him." I said, "Great. Since you've been in this community, what have you been doing to help with the leadership and so on?" And he told me, "I'm giving the people what they want." I almost fainted right there in the church! I couldn't believeߞbecause when I heard him speak, it was so lacking in any perspective, any inspiration, it was so lacking in giving people the wherewithal to fight the battle. I just couldn't believe it, and that's why I was pressed to go to him and ask him what this had done to equip him for helping these people in his community that so desperately needed it? When he said he was giving them what they wanted, I felt like my heart just went absolutely to the floor!
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
And this was at a church here in Weldon?
DORIS COCHRAN:
Yes, yes.
SALTER COCHRAN:
First Baptist.
DORIS COCHRAN:
After that, I told my husband, "I've never been a very religious person, maybe spiritual, but not religious. But this does it for me. I just don't think I can become a part of that type of mentality. I've got to stay on the outside and find out what allows it persist, and see what I can do from the other end. But it's not going to work for me to be a part of it." I had grown up in a family that wasn't terribly religious, because we weren't even told that we had to go to church in my family, it was a matter of being exposed to all kinds of religions, and accepting what was acceptable to you. After that experience, the idea of becoming a part of the religious atmosphere in Weldon [was impossible]. And that set us apart, because in the black community, if you're not first, from that community, and you don't have the accent, that's sort of a startling aspect to you, and then if you're not a part of the church, there is something definitely wrong there! So that set me apart.
SALTER COCHRAN:
It's the slave mentality again.
DORIS COCHRAN:
So it was harder for people to look at me and say, "She'll be a part of us," than it was for them to look at my husband, because his family had been very involved in the religious community in Weldon, especially his grandmother. That was a revelation, number one. After that, I think I made up my mind with Salter that we'd do the best we could to bring to the people the best medicine and the best image of self-realization of some sort that we possibly could. It started off by our working very hard to create a physical plant. No one would let us have any property that we could house an office in, and we had to fend for ourselves.
SALTER COCHRAN:
They wanted to put us in the cotton gin!
DORIS COCHRAN:
We really had nowhere to go.