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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 >>

Reflections on the future of racism

The Cochrans think to the future and reflect on racism. They worry about the reticence of the old, black-on-black prejudice, the persistence of a "slave mentality," and economic injustice.

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:
We have survived, but I think it's taken its toll. Even though I'm 75 and she's almost 70, maybe it doesn't show on our faces, but it was a tough thing to do in an area like this, that was resistant to change and is presently resistant to change. We haven't made much progress in this area. We have tried to change the thinking, and we have a lot of liberal white youngsters who are interested in changing the lifestyle of the community, but these old people are resistant. But they're dying out, and we're hoping for some improvement. I've always felt, and so has my wife, that we cannot survive in this country unless we solve the race problem.
DORIS COCHRAN:
A very sad thing that I've seen here and other places is that there's a lot of prejudice among blacks also. Understandably, because it's been like a shield to them.
SALTER COCHRAN:
It's color prejudice.
DORIS COCHRAN:
Not only color prejudice, but against other people.
SALTER COCHRAN:
Those with limited education are prejudiced against educated blacks.
DORIS COCHRAN:
It makes for a whole picture that, if you look at it one way, can be rather bleak. You just can't afford to give up too easily.
SALTER COCHRAN:
It's a picture of confusion among economics, race, and all those things. But the people who are at the top exploit that situation by creating more problems. But now they've found out it isn't feasible to go that way, because your community deteriorates. But it took them years to find that out.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
What do y'all see as some of the continuing problems that African Americans still face today, all this time after the civil rights movement?
SALTER COCHRAN:
I'll give one. Identification. You're physically identified by color, I'd say 90 percent of African Americans. Maybe less than that, since a lot of them are going over, so you really don't know who they are. I think it's obvious that if you can physically identify a person as African American, it's established within your mind that this person is inferior, so I'm going to take over. I don't know if my would agree.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
So you think that's still a problem to this day.
DORIS COCHRAN:
It's definitely still a problem. The attitude is that slave ethic or mentality that still exists. I really don't know how you overcome it. By being a musician and being immersed in things that were aesthetic as a child, with my family and in schoolߞwe had marvelous orchestras and art departments when I was in schoolߞI think that that's one way that some of this can be thrown away, some of the feelings of prejudice and overt acts of degrading other people. Day by day contacts are not positive, and could be changed through forms of art and culture. That will be a difficult thing, because in an area like this you don't have those institutions that admire, condone or nurture any type of artistic endeavor. That's something that's far off in poor and semi-rural communities. I really think that it's unfair to put the burden on schools, because they already have burdens of discipline. Many of the teachers when my children were in school were not equipped to deal with people coming from various backgrounds. They just did not have the outlook or background themselves to be able to make a difference. I think that's more or less a lost cause. So it leaves you with very little to deal with. Among the black churches, during and right after the Civil War, they were the alpha and omega to the black community. You found a lot of the black ministers who went away to be educated, and came back to help lead their people. But that is no longer the case, and has long since gone by the way because of economic pressures. You find a lot of ministers are not able, intellectually or in any other way, to lead large numbers of people into positivity. It just isn't there. I really don't know what the answers could possibly be, with the exception of the infusion of people from other areas. Like in Raleigh, the Triangle area, the Triad area, people moving in from other places make a difference, and make people become subject to changeߞit's not a choice. I really think that that's the only thing that's going to make a difference. Here, the infusion of other people has made some difference, because you find people understanding that, "Wow, there are other religions besides mine. There are other languages besides mine." In a very slow but definite way, I think that might make a difference, but I really don't know what the answers are.
SALTER COCHRAN:
We've found it difficult in the realm of acceptance of two people like us. And we've been here almost 50 years. You see how she talks, and my control of the English language isn't as great as hers. But we're seen as a threat, because we don't comply with what exists.
DORIS COCHRAN:
I don't think we are now. At this stage, we're seen not so much as a threat as we are an oddball.
SALTER COCHRAN:
What did Hitler do? He eliminated the intelligent Jews immediately. The intellectuals. I think they really tried to do that in areas of our society.
DORIS COCHRAN:
I think that people are just resistant to change. Because slavery was here, it was looked upon as an acceptable institution. It's very difficult to change your attitudes and your feelings. If you weren't reared in that situation, your aspect is completely different. It's a matter of an infusion of difference that will eventually change things.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
I'd like to ask you, though, from the other side of the coin, what has changed since y'all got here in 1950?
DORIS COCHRAN:
You do see a few people who seem to be genuinely interested in making a change, whereas you didn't before. You see a few people who are willing to verbalize that. People may have thought it before, but they were not willing to verbalize it. At this juncture, there are retirees who are coming back to the community. I think it's helping the black community in a lot of ways in that these people have been in other places, and have made a living. Some of them have done well, and have been able to invest in nice homes here so that they could live comfortably in their later years. I think that they're opening the eyes of people who have been protected so far as outside of this geographical area is concerned. In small ways like that, I think they make a difference.
KAREN KRUISE THOMAS:
That's interesting, because the older people coming in may be of the same generation as the older people here who have lived here all their lives, so they at least have that in common. It's not like it's some young person coming in, trying to tell them what to do.
DORIS COCHRAN:
Exactly. It's been interesting to me too to see that happen. I think that's a positive note. Other than that, it's very difficult for me to see what real changes have come about, because you still have that most segregated 11 o'clock hour [on Sundays], with the exception perhaps of the Catholic church. When my nephew, who was from New York, used to come down to spend some time in the summers or when he was in the Marines and stationed at Camp Lejeune, he went to the Catholic church and was, I think, the only black Catholic there. I think there are a couple of blacks who belong to the Episcopal church here. There's Jehovah's Witnesses, too, that are integrated. You do have a bit more tolerance than you did at that time. I don't hear that same tone that I heard when I first came here. I don't hear anybody calling anybody "boy" or "girl," because I think they feel like they'll get slapped down in some instances! So that, I think, has changed. In your business, there are more black people involved in the banks and stores, and more visible. Those are slow things that are happening, but they are happening.
SALTER COCHRAN:
Those are entry level jobs.
DORIS COCHRAN:
Yeah, you don't find them in the administrative and the executive positions, but you do find them in the workaday world.