J. Otis Cochran

A native of Vine City and co-founder of the Vine City Foundation, J. Otis Cochran was one of eleven African American students in Yale’s incoming law school class in 1968. This graduate of Spelman College soon rose to a position of prominence at Yale, where he founded the Black Law Students Union during his first semester. Shortly thereafter he became the second national chair of the National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA). After graduating from Yale in 1971, Cochran would go on to earn a doctorate from Columbia University; become a law professor at Vassar College, the University of Tennessee, and Yale; and serve as director of multiple minority-rights and community-development organizations. He is currently chair of the board of directors for Resources for Residents and Communities, Inc., a non-profit committed to rehabilitating neighborhoods in Atlanta.

Cochran’s biography raises some interesting questions about social mobility in Vine City in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Is his “success story” exceptional? Or was he one of many Vine City natives to receive high levels of education and then move away? If his story is one of many, then what happened to the other members of the “Vine City diaspora” and did any of them return permanently to their neighborhood? Cochran’s story may serve as a useful starting point for future research into Vine City’s past and present.

Laura Kalman, Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 109.