Edward L. Cochran didn't plan on becoming a leader in the movement to end segregation in Howard County when he was appointed to the Board of Education in 1964. His goal was to improve the overall performance of the county's then-rural school system. But he soon realized that no innovations could take place until segregation was truly dead.
"The segregation-integration thing was just a barrier," he said. "That needed to be done with before the schools could move forward."
Cochran was certain the county's largely agricultural community was ready to take that step. He became convinced of it on a cold night in 1964 when an unlikely pair of activists knocked on his door in the middle of a snowstorm.
A few days earlier, Cochran had received a call from Silas E. Craft Sr., the black education activist, and Robert H. Kittleman, the white conservative Republican who had joined the desegregation movement. They wanted to talk with him about speeding up the board's four-year plan to end segregation.
But on the day they agreed to meet at Cochran's house, there was a blizzard. "The snow was about two feet high, and I never gave a thought that those people would consider coming," said Cochran, who became county executive in 1974.
He was wrong.
"About 9 o'clock that night, there was a knock at the front door," he said. "These two guys are frozen. They walked all the way up the lane -- and those days it was gravel, it was rocks. They walked up there; they came in. They got thawed out, made their plight about school integration issues, and we had a nice conversation."
Craft and Kittleman didn't stop there. A month or two later, the board was preparing to vote on when to close the all-black Harriet Tubman High School, and Kittleman called on Cochran again.
"I think he knew that the vote was coming," Cochran said. "I said, 'Bob, just lay low for a couple weeks. I think we've got it made.' "
-- YLAN Q. MUI