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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 >>

Forcing desegregation on resistant hospital personnel

Salter remembers the compromises he had to make to get around the segregated medical system in Weldon. He drove eighty miles to deliver babies and learned new techniques from a few liberal lecturers. Eventually he simply forced integration on the staff at the hospital in Weldon, insisting on sending his black patients to white areas of the building. The Cochrans' children followed Salter's example and integrated their local school after the Cochrans and others organized the effort with help from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The Cochrans remember the threats they received during this time, in the early 1960s.

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

SALTER COCHRAN:
It was difficult, because they didn't give me immediate staff privileges, and you were working at a definite disadvantage. After I returned, it was over seven years. And every white physician came and got his in 30 days. We had two white physicians in the area, Dr. Blow and Dr. Suiter in Weldon, and they were courteously polite. You know how people are? It still didn't solve my problems. We couldn't even go to clinics at Duke then. We went to clinics at the black hospital, Lincoln in Durham. We had quite a few liberal physicians at Duke who would come over and lecture all day on one- and two-day lecture sessions. They would keep us abreast of what was happening in the field of medicine.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
So these doctors would lecture at Lincoln?
SALTER COCHRAN:
They called it Lincoln Clinic, and it was an all-day clinic, and part of the next day. We went for years doing that, and going maybe to seminars outside the state.
DORIS COCHRAN:
That's where I went to deliver all my babies, had to drive all the way down to Lincoln [approximately 80 miles]. For two reasons: I was Rh negative, and I didn't want to be relegated to a segregated area in the hospital here.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
So there was a hospital here, but it was segregated.
SALTER COCHRAN:
In Roanoke Rapids [5 miles from Weldon]. It's the old hospital, and you're dealing with doctors who hadn't been used to treating black people like human beings. That was disturbing to them when I got on the staff. I sort of half-way intimidated and forced them to do things. I was delivering babies there in '61, '62, and they told me you had to send the babies downstairs to the colored section, as they said. I started sending them upstairs where everybody else was. And they thought I was a belligerent soul. Eventually, I integrated that hospital, didn't I, Doris? Because I started sending the patients upstairs. Everybody was afraid to say anything to me, because they would cut off the federal funds. It was the law then. Which was lateߞthey had passed the thing a long time ago. I was the only minority physician there for 15 years. I caught hell.
DORIS COCHRAN:
Our children integrated the schools, by the way.
SALTER COCHRAN:
In Halifax County in 1964. Our son Tony went all the way through 12 grades, and he finished in 1976.
DORIS COCHRAN:
They integrated Weldon's school. They were the first blacks in Weldon or in the whole county to integrate. John Salter, I don't know if you've heard of him, he was with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
SALTER COCHRAN:
He was here in the late '50s and early '60s.
DORIS COCHRAN:
He helped us organize parents for integration, to get depositions. In fact, we housed a lot of the law students who were helping us to get depositions.
SALTER COCHRAN:
You know where they came from? The Ivy League. Georgetown, Yale, Harvard.
DORIS COCHRAN:
They stayed at our house. We had army cots. And they helped us take care of the children, because we were really immersed in civil rights at that time.
SALTER COCHRAN:
And we believe the FBI tapped our phones. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
DORIS COCHRAN:
Our phones were tapped at the time, and we could tell that they were. So we contacted the FBI to tell them what we thought. They came to our house.
SALTER COCHRAN:
And acted so cavalier about it.
DORIS COCHRAN:
So we said, "You probably are responsible for it." It was amusing, but at the same time, I couldn't allow my children to answer the telephone, because we'd get so many threats on the phone. We didn't know what was going on. We had to be very careful.
SALTER COCHRAN:
And they did us physically in, too. They would take me out, threaten to put me in jail, and put me in there. But they were afraid to lock me up.
DORIS COCHRAN:
They locked up a very good friend of ours several times, who was a lawyerߞJames Walker, the man who integrated the University of North Carolina Law School.
SALTER COCHRAN:
And he didn't have many friends. He's the guy who came here in 1954 and started the civil rights movement. It was before Christmas, I had just come home. He was supposed to come down and talk to some other blacks in Weldon about the situation, and they backed out. They told him, "That young doctor that just came out of the army might be interested." That was the latter part of '54. So we joined him, and I ended up spending a whole lot of money with him. Cause nobody else would spend either time or money with civil rights.
DORIS COCHRAN:
We helped to finance his efforts.
SALTER COCHRAN:
We were threatened many times, and he was jailed at least a couple of hundred times.