Federation holds 54th Annual Meeting; honors Marian Wright Edelman

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund held its fifty-fourth Annual Meeting, on a virtual basis over three days, August 19-21, 2021. The Federation started in 1967 by cooperatives and credit unions that were developed during the Civil Rights Movement is now the premier organization representing 75 cooperatives and 10,000 remaining Black farmers in the South. On Thursday evening, the Federation honored Marian Wright Edelman, emeritus director of the Children’s Defense Fund, with its Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award, for her service to low-income people, especially children. Edelman is also a long-time columnist in the Greene County Democrat. This was the twentieth time the Federation awarded its highest award, named for Estelle Witherspoon, former Manager of the Freedom Quilting Bee of Wilcox County and an original incorporator of the Federation. The award was accepted by Oleta Fitzgerald, a long-time colleague of Marian Wright Edelman. On Friday, the Federation hosted a panel of representatives of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on programs and benefits available to Black and family sized farmers, like those in the Federation’s membership. The panel was highlighted by its first speaker, Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack said he was working to “include more equity and diversity in the internal operations, staffing and programs of USDA. He introduced several Black and people of color, that he had selected to serve in leadership positions within USDA. The Secretary also announced the availability of $67 million in funding for an “Heirs Property Re-lending Program” which will assist families facing problems in clearing title to agricultural land, left by deceased relatives, who did not make wills. The Federation worked to get provisions for this program included in the 2018 Farm Bill but the Trump Administration failed to issue regulations to implement the program. The Secretary indicated that he expected the Federation, among others groups, to apply for these funds to implement a stronger program of heirs property assistance. The Secretary also spoke to the assistance for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers in Sections 1005 and 1006 of the American Rescue Plan. The $4 billion of debt relief promised in Section 1005 has been held-up by lawsuits filed by White farmers in 13 Federal Court districts, who charge that the program discriminates against them. Vilsack said USDA was fighting the lawsuits and would continue the moratorium on foreclosures until the legal matters were resolved. He also said that he was working to implement Section 1006 which will provide benefits to BIPOC farmers as Congress intended. Agency heads from Farm Services Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Forestry Service, Rural Development, APHIS, Agricultural Marketing Service and others also spoke about their programs, services and benefits tailored to BIPOC farmers. On Saturday, the Federation held a prayer breakfast followed by a business meeting. Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director, reported that despite many challenges the organization was financially stable, staffed and ready to assist its members in growing and having greater success as farmers, fishers and workers in the coming post-pandemic economy. The Federation also award six young people, affiliated with Federation member organizations with a $1,000 college scholarship, named for Anulet Pat Jackson, a former staff member. The scholarships have been funded on an annual basis for the past ten years by Sharing Inc. Pam Madzima, Alabama State Coordinator for the Federation, said, “We have awarded 75 young people scholarships through this program. Many have gone on to complete their studies and serve their communities.”

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