Federation honors memory of Ralph Paige at 51st Annual Meeting

Pictured above are members of the Paige family including wife Bernice, children Bernard and Kenyatta, and grandchildren on stage with Federation Executive Director, Cornelius Blanding and members of the organization’s Board of Directors. Cornelius Blanding discusses plans for cooperative development curriculum with President Quentin Ross of Alabama State University. The Rural Coalition presents a certificate to the Federation for its 50th anniversary. L to R Shirley Blakley, Chair of Federation Board, Lorette Picciano, Rural Coalition, John Zippert, Rural Coalition Board, Darnella Burkett Winston, Rural Coalition Board, Cornelius Blanding, Federation Executive Director.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund honored the memory of its longtime Executive Director, Ralph Paige, who served for thirty yeas from 1985-2015. He was awarded its Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday night in Birmingham at the beginning of the organization’s 51st Annual Meeting. Several speakers at the Witherspoon Award banquet celebrated Ralph Paige’s 46 years of work and service to the movement for Black farmers, land and cooperative development that symbolized the work of the Federation. Paige died recently at the age of 74. The Federation’s Board of Directors met Thursday in Birmingham to review the program direction and finances of the organization. Two Roundtables one on Cooperative Development and one on Land Retention were also held in Birmingham. Quentin Ross, President of Alabama State University in Montgomery spoke at the Cooperative Roundtable of working with the Federation on developing a cooperative education curriculum for the students at ASU including internships with Federation member cooperatives and credit unions. The Federation has developed and is in the process of implementing a similar program with Tuskegee University. On Friday and Saturday the site of the meeting shifted to the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center, near Epes, in Sumter County, Alabama. Friday’s program began with a panel of USDA program experts who both presented about their programs and answered questions from the audience of farmers and landowners. There was a lively interchange of views between USDA officials and their farmer stakeholders on issues of agricultural tariffs, program eligibility, focusing resources on new and beginning farmers and other relevant issues. State Senator Hank Sanders of Selma was the lunchtime speaker and among other remarks, he introduced his daughter, Malika Sanders Fortier, who is running to fill his position as State Senator for District 24 in the November 6 General Election. Several members of Federation related cooperatives gave five-minute testimonials on their experience working with the Federation and how it helped to improve their family income and quality of life. There were more educational workshops, demonstration farm and forestry tours and a fish fry, food tasting, auction and entertainment to close out the Friday activities. The program on Saturday began with a Prayer Breakfast at which Rev. Wendell Paris, a past staff member, spoke to the importance of the work of the Federation and the “sacred ground” that the Federation’s training center was built upon. A business meeting, report from the Board and Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director, state caucus discussions on program needs and direction, and the awarding of five $1,000 scholarships to high school graduates for their first year of college rounded out the program.

Federation of Southern Cooperatives to hold 51st Annual Meeting on August 16-18

         Cornelius Blanding

Ralph Paige

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/ Land Assistance Fund will hold its 51st Annual Meeting next week, August 16-18, 2018. Cornelius Blanding, Federation Executive Director announced that the program would begin in Birmingham on Thursday August 16 at the Hyatt Regency Winfrey Hotel with a Board of Directors meeting, Co-op Roundtable and other events. At 7:00 PM the Federation will hold its 17th Annual Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner at the Hyatt Regency. “We have decided to honor Ralph Paige, our recently deceased Executive Director from 1985-2015, posthumously with this important award for 46 years of service to the organization,” said Blanding. Members of Ralph’s family including his wife Bernice and two children – Bernard and Kenyatta – will be present to accept the award, “In years past, we gave this honor to Civil Rights leaders and veterans, Hollywood actors, Congressmen and women who provided humanitarian service to the Black community and African-American farmers and landowners in particular. This year, we decided to honor one of our own.

Sadly we are doing this posthumously after his recent and untimely death,” said Blanding. On Friday and Saturday, August 17 and 18, 2018, the meeting shifts to the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center, near Epes, Alabama in Sumter County. On Friday, we will hold a series of activities including exhibits, speakers, USDA panel discussions, workshops and agri-tours. Later that evening, enjoy the fun and excitement of the Auction and Fish Fry with live entertainment!   Saturday’s meeting will begin with a Prayer Breakfast and conclude with the Annual Business Meeting and State Caucus reports. A highlight of this meeting will be the announcement of a $10 million dollar Capital Campaign to reinvigorate the Federation’s Forty Acre and a Mule Endowment Fund to support the long term goals and programs of the Federation and main its unique Rural Training and Research Center near Epes, Alabama. For more information and to purchase tickets for the 51st. Annual Meeting contact: www.federation.coop or www.give2federation.org or call 404/765-0991 in Atlanta and 205/652-9676 in Epes, Alabama.

Newswire: Ralph Paige, former Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, dies at 75

Ralph Paige

Ralph Paige, former Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/and Assistance Fund, died Thursday at 74.
He served as Executive Director for 30 years from 1985 to 2015. He began working for the Federation in 1969 and served the organization for 46 years.
A native of LaGrange, Georgia, he was the seventh of twelve children. Ralph attended local public schools and graduated with a BA degree in Education from Fort Valley State College, an HBCU, in 1967. He was active in sports of football and swimming during college.

After serving briefly as a school teacher and coach, Ralph became a cooperative organizer with the Federation in west Georgia in 1969. He assisted the Harris County Farmers Co-op to grow and expand its scope and services to become the West Georgia Farmers Co-op. He later headed the Federation’s Business Development Office in LaGrange, Georgia giving advice and loan packaging services to cooperatives and small businesses in the area.
In 1977, he directed the Federation’s National VISTA program providing 110 volunteer staff at 60 locations from South Carolina to Texas. In this role, he traveled and met with the membership and leadership of the Federation throughout the South.
In 1985, when Charles Prejean, the Federation’s first Executive Director stepped aside, the organization’s Board of Directors chose Ralph Paige to succeed him.
During his thirty years as Executive Director, he built the Federation into the premier organization representing Black farmers and low-income rural people in the South. He helped to organize 70 cooperatives and 18 community development credit unions during his tenure as Executive Director. He supported the development of the Federation’s unique Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama, including an agroforestry component and forestry demonstrations.
He led the Federation in a 1992 Black Farmers Caravan to Washington, D.C. to highlight the discriminatory policies of the United States Department of Agriculture. The Caravan ended with a protest in front of USDA by several hundred Black farmers who brought a pig to show their distain for USDA policies.
He spearheaded efforts from the mid-1990’s forward to file suit against USDA for discrimination in credit, conservation and rural development. These efforts led to the historic Pigford I and Pigford II class action cases, which became the largest successful discrimination lawsuits against the U. S. Federal government and yielded $2.5 billion in payments to thousands of Black farm families. He also supported discrimination settlements for Native American, Hispanic and Women farmers who were also subjected to discrimination by USDA.
He worked on legislation to reform farm and rural policies to allow for the formation of the National Co-op Bank, creation of the Section 2501 Outreach and Technical Assistance Program for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, expansion of farm credit to include Micro-loans, appropriate to family-size farming operations; and the creation of the Rural Cooperative Development Program to support cooperative development and training centers, like the Federation’s at Epes.
In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives implemented a comprehensive Relief and Recovery Project (RRP), which focused on both short and long term assistance to thousands of farmers, fishers, families and individuals displaced and affected by the hurricanes. The RRP has enabled a significant number of victims and affected communities to receive the resources and assistance necessary for them to cope with their immediate situation while developing concrete plans for the future.
Despite obstacles, financial problems, and many times a hostile and racially charged environment, Ralph maintained the Federation, an annual budget of $3 million, and a staff of 30 or more trained specialists around the South. He mentored and trained, Cornelius Blanding, to take over his position as Executive Director. In 2015, Ralph retired to take care of his health. His greatest legacy is that the Federation has continued and flourished, celebrating its 50th anniversary in August 2017. A succession plan that he initiated has replaced the ‘founding generation of core staff’ with a new generation of capable leadership to guide the organization for the next generation and into the future.
Ralph served on many boards and received many honors in his lifetime. Among the Boards were: Nationwide Insurance Company, National Cooperative Business Association, Cooperative Development Foundation, Cooperative Business International, the President’s (George Bush) Twenty-first Century Agriculture Commission, Rural Policy Advisory Committee to President Barack Obama and many more.
He received numerous awards including induction in to the Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2004, Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award from SCLC, George Washington Carver Hall of Fame at Tuskegee, Congressional Black Caucus Leadership Award, NCBA Co-op Month Leadership Award and many others.
Ralph leaves to cherish his memory, a wife of 51 years, Bernice, two children, Bernard and Kenyatta, five grand children and many relatives and friends. His funeral services will be held in LaGrange, Georgia on Friday July 6, 2018.

Mike Espy receives award at Federation’s 50th Anniversary

FederationMike Espy, former Secretary of Agriculture received the Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award on Thursday night in Birmingham as part of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives’ 50th Annual Meeting and anniversary. Shirley Blakely of Mississippi, Board Chair, joined by other board members and Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director, presented the award. The meeting continued Friday and Saturday at the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center. More than 500 people attended the three-day celebration. The Federation was founded 1967 by 22 cooperatives and credit unions, arising out of the Civil Rights Movement, who banded together for mutual assistance, training and pooled resources. For more information, see the organization’s website at: www.federation.coop.

Newswire : Mike Espy to receive Witherspoon Award at Federation’s 50th Annual Meeting celebration

Mike Espy
Mike Espy

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund will celebrate its 50th. Annual Meeting on August 17 to 19, 2017. The organization was founded in 1967, by 22 cooperatives and credit unions, arising from the Civil Rights Movement, serving low-income farmers and rural people in the South.
On Thursday evening, August 17, Attorney Mike Espy of Jackson, Mississippi will receive the 16th annual Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award at a fundraising banquet at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Interstate 495 in Birmingham. Estelle Witherspoon was the Manager of the Freedom Quilting Bee in Alberta, Alabama and a founding member of the Federation.

Mike Espy served as the first Black Congressman from Mississippi since Reconstruction, from 1987 to 1993. In 1993, President Bill Clinton selected him to be the first African-American and the first Secretary of Agriculture from the Deep South. Today, Espy heads the Mississippi office of the law firm of Morgan and Morgan and was involved in the Pigford Black Farmer Discrimination lawsuits against USDA.

Espy has worked closely with the Federation in all of his professional pursuits. As a Mississippi Congressman he co-sponsored the “Minority Farers Rights Bill” and helped to get several of its major components, including the Section 2501 Outreach Program, into the 1990 Farm Bill. As Secretary of Agriculture, he worked closely with the Federation on the efforts to bring greater civil rights concern to the department. As a lawyer, he worked closely with the Federation and our members on the Pigford lawsuit.

On Friday and Saturday, August 18 and 19, the Federation’s Annual Meeting will shift to the organization’s Rural Training and Research Center, near Epes in Sumter County. Friday will be a day of workshops, presentations and celebration of the Federation’s half century of work and achievements on behalf of Black farmers and landowners. Friday evening there will be a fish-fry, wild game tasting and other dishes from the regional membership of the Federation.

On Saturday, the Federation will hold a prayer breakfast followed by the organization’s business meeting, which includes reports from the Board of Directors, Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director, and state caucuses of the membership.

Cornelius Blanding said, “For five decades, the Federation has served its membership of Black farmers and other low income rural people across the South. We have held true to our mission and worked at the grassroots level to transform people and communities, many times in the face of racial hostility and economic exploitation, to win a better future with social and economic justice for our membership. I am proud to be part of the continuing legacy of the Federation and hope to lead it into the next half century of progress.”

Persons interested in attending the Estelle Witherspoon Awards Banquet and the 50th Annual Meeting should go to the organization’s website at www.federation.coop to register. Information is also available from the Federation’s offices in Atlanta (404/765-0991) and Epes, Alabama (205/652-9676).

Federation steps in to halt Wendy Hills foreclosure

Minutes before the foreclosure sale on Thursday, December 15, 2016, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, PLBA Housing Development Corporation and USDA Rural Development reached an agreement to sell the Wendy Hills Subdivision to the Federation. This averted the foreclosure sale, which was set for 11:00 AM at the Courthouse steps in Livingston, Alabama.
“We are pleased that we were able to secure funding to purchase Wendy Hills and avoid a foreclosure which would have caused an untold upheaval to the forty families living there. We want to continue to provide good housing for very low income people in Sumter County, which was the original intent and goal of Wendy Hills,” said Cornelius Blanding, Federation Executive Director.
Blanding continued, “ We know that we have to make some improvements to the property to bring it up to standards. We plan to secure financing for these improvements to the apartments as well as insure fire protection and safety for all of the residents.” “Our first step will be to insure the continued rental assistance, currently provided by HUD, to allow very low income persons to live in north Sumter County,” said Blanding.
Commissioner Drusilla Jackson, whose district includes the Wendy Hills Subdivision, said “ I was very concerned about this foreclosure and its impact on people in my district. I pledge to assist the Federation in any way I can to help insure that the housing is maintained for the residents who live there.”
The Wendy Hills Subdivision currently consists of 36 units, 10 one bedroom, 8 two bedroom, 8 three bedroom and 10 four bedroom apartments; an office and a playground area. Fire destroyed four of the original 40 units and they have not been rebuilt.
Mayor Carrie Fulghum of the Town of Gainesville and General Manager of the PLBA Housing Development Corporation said “ I am glad, as mayor of the closest town, that we were able to prevent the foreclosure of Wendy Hills and I am dedicated to insuring a safe and secure place for the residents of the Subdivision.”
For more information contact: Cornelius Blanding at 404/765-0991 or cornelius@federation.coop