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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 >>

Lobbying against race-based gerrymandering

Salter remembers his presidency of the Old North State Medical Society in the late 1960s. With Doris, he lobbied against a bill before the state legislature that would have resegregated schools via redistricting. The bill passed on its second try, however. The Cochrans go on to describe the enduring segregation and economic decline in Weldon and Roanoke Rapids and the changing racial dynamics introduced by a growing East Indian population.

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:
You hit upon a point. Back in the mid-'60s, after I came on the staff, I became president of the Old North State Medical Society [for one term in 1968-69]. I was very militant, I wore a dashiki, and I would bring things up before the legislature. Because we were not members of the North Carolina Medical Society until the late '60s.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
I know that they gave scientific membership in 1955, but when were blacks admitted as full members?
SALTER COCHRAN:
By the late '60s. We were members of the Old North State [Medical Society] all those years.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
So what were some of the things you lobbied the legislature on?
SALTER COCHRAN:
We lobbied them on membership, which was a waste of time.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
So you went to the state legislature to get that?
SALTER COCHRAN:
We went to the state legislature when we were involved on the school separation bill in 1969.
DORIS COCHRAN:
A lot of the areas here wanted to create separate school districts within the townships, because blacks were living in the rural areas, and this would re-segregate the schools after integration, since the townships were predominantly white. So both Salter and myself appeared before the legislature to protest this, along with James Walker. He didn't appear, but he helped us to prepare. We had a lot of difficulties to overcome, because our mail was held up. Whenever we were approved to appear, they'd hold our mail at the post office, and we'd get a notice a couple of hours before time for us to be there, and we'd have to get in the car and speed all they way to Raleigh.
SALTER COCHRAN:
They gave us more than a couple of hours, they gave us overnight, but we had to put people to work on machines to get out the folders to pass out. Julian Allsbrookߞyou saw Julian Allsbrook Highway on the way in?ߞhe was instrumental in the Senate for a number of years. So his colleagues asked him, "Who are those people named Cochran delivering all this stuff? What law firm is that?" [Laughter] He said, "He's a doctor, and she's a housewife." We killed it. They wouldn't pass the bill at first, but the second time, they put so much pressure on, they passed the bill. What they would do is, treacherous things like if the black high school in Scotland Neck was eight feet out in the county, they ran the line so that the white students within the town limits wouldn't have that many black students in their school.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Right. I'm familiar with the Durham situation.
SALTER COCHRAN:
They gerrymandered it.
DORIS COCHRAN:
This area is divided into three districts for the same purpose. Roanoke Rapids is one school district, Weldon is another, and then the county.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Which one would be the so-called black school district?
SALTER COCHRAN:
The county. Most of the blacks live in rural areas, so they draw that line accordingly.
DORIS COCHRAN:
It's changed now. In Weldon, it's predominantly black. Roanoke Rapids is still predominantly white.
SALTER COCHRAN:
But they're changing, because there are a lot of blacks moving in the mill houses, which are deteriorating.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Have the economic opportunities changed, because if I'm not mistaken, most of the mill workers back in the '50s would have been white.
DORIS COCHRAN:
They were.
SALTER COCHRAN:
Most of them are black, now. But the upper echelon is still predominantly white. The same thing in the hospital. There's not a black within the first eight spots in the hospital, never has been.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
So it sounds like the economic structure of the community changed over time.
DORIS COCHRAN:
To some extent, yes. You have a lot of blacks now who are in services, where before, you didn't see a black person behind a counter anywhere, you didn't see them in a restaurant, you didn't see them anywhere. Of course, that's changed.
SALTER COCHRAN:
They were house people, domestic servants.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
You had said that your own children have chosen not to stay in this area. Do you feel there's been kind of an exodus from this area?
DORIS COCHRAN:
Oh, yes. Through the years.
SALTER COCHRAN:
It's been both blacks and whites.
DORIS COCHRAN:
Yes, it's happened here. There are no opportunities for them here. Plus, there's no acceptance, by and large, in the majority of organizations here. The service organizations like Rotary Club are still predominantly white, so that you're really not an integral part of the community.
SALTER COCHRAN:
Of the infrastructure.
DORIS COCHRAN:
The churches, of course, are still segregatedߞeleven o'clock on Sundays is the most segregated hour in America, as they say. You do not have an ongoing, diverse community, which would be ideal. You still have blacks completely separated from the white community. With a few exceptions.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Have some of the institutions that the black community relied on under segregation to fight for civil rightsߞhave those institutions survived?
DORIS COCHRAN:
No, they have not. Primarily because during the time that we were working in civil rights, most of the professionals, like teachers, could not become a part of it, because they would have lost their jobs. Like Willa [Cofield Johnson] in Enfield, was fired from her job because she was involved in picketing the schools. Other people who would have joined her would have lost their jobs. So you could really understand, to survive, they were not able to become a part of the civil rights picture. As a result of that, through the years, young people, rather than having to put up with all the difficulties and lack of opportunities, have gotten their educations and just left. You've had quite a few young people, we can name any number of black kids, who have left never to return. So you have a dearth of young professionals.
SALTER COCHRAN:
All of them were my patients. We had a doctor who became an endocrinologist, and he didn't come back.
DORIS COCHRAN:
But you do have some who have back, like Ike Miller, who have joined predominantly white medical groups. There are quite a few East Indians in our area.
SALTER COCHRAN:
We should tell you about the change in the medical profession towards minorities. However, the East Indians don't consider themselves minorities. They are treated as minorities, I don't know how they don't realize it. They will utilize their talent, because they are well-trained in medicine. They have one, two and three boards [certifications in medical specialties]. But I question the acceptance of these people.
DORIS COCHRAN:
Plus, they're not the top people in hospital administration. It's still predominantly white, and always has been.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Isn't there a difference between minorities who are native to this country and foreign-born people? Is there a difference in treatment? DC and
SALTER COCHRAN:
Oh, yes.
DORIS COCHRAN:
Definitely so. There's more acceptance in the community of foreign minorities than indigenous blacks. At the same time, in a lot of areas here, you find that most of the East Indians especially, socialize among themselves, and have their own place, and work together, not specifically with the community in most aspects. There are a few who are more Westernized in their thinking, I guess.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
Sounds like they stay self-segregated.
SALTER COCHRAN:
I don't they think they realize it, and don't want to accept it, but I tell them, "Turn your hand over, look at the back of your hand."
DORIS COCHRAN:
But you find that more whites are willing to go to East Indians or Asians or other minorities for medical treatment than would ever go to blacks. Even some foreign blacks are more accepted. We have an African in this area who has a large white clientele. It's still that old slave mentality.