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.”
By: John Zippert, Co-Publisher, Special to the Greene County Democrat
Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fisher from Seadrift, Texas enters the fourth week of a hunger strike to protest the dredging of the ship channel in Matagorda Bay, coastal Texas, about one hundred miles south and east of Houston. Wilson, a 72-year-old grandmother, is the San Antonio Bay and Estuarine Water keeper who has been an environmental guardian of the San Antonio, Matagorda and Lavaca Bay areas on the Texas Gulf Coast. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) has reactivated a plan to dredge the ship channel in Matagorda Bay to serve Max Midstream, a pipeline company that plans to build a crude oil export terminal at Port O’Connor at the eastern head of Matagorda Bay. The dredging will involve deepening the 26-mile channel by 8 feet and widening it by 150 feet, which involves dredging 14 million tons of mud from the seafloor. The dredging is complicated because it touches upon an EPA Superfund site, which was polluted with mercury by Alcoa in the past. The original USACOE Environmental Impact Statement, compiled in 2009 for a LNG export terminal project, that was not built, provided for placing the dredged materials to create new wetland marshes, islands and oyster reefs offshore. This is similar to dredging projects in Galveston Bay and other Texas coastal areas. The USACOE revised its plan to allow placing the dredged materials on the western side of the bay, covering a third of the existing oyster reefs, beaches used for recreation and generally impairing commercial and recreational fishing in the Matagorda Bay complex. The USACOE also accelerated the permitting process for the dredging at the request of Max Midstream and Texas politicians supporting export of the state’s fracked petroleum resources. Wilson said, “ I felt I had no choice but to start my hunger strike. I saw no way to stop this fast-tracking of the dredging of my beloved bays in Texas to provide for a crude oil export terminal, that some oil and gas people say is not even needed. I want to alert the community to the dangers of this dredging to health, fishing and recreation. I want the dredging to stop and President Biden to reinstate the ban on exporting oil that Trump lifted.” Wilson says that this is her eighth hunger strike. She participated in a 56-day strike, her longest, in Washington D. C. to try to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Wilson, was also a plaintiff in a 2019 case against the Formosa Plastic Corporation, for polluting Matagorda Bay with microscopic plastic pellets. This case resulted in a $50 million dollar settlement against Formosa to help restore and improve the environmental quality of Matagorda Bay. The settlement includes $20 million to support the development of a fishing cooperative to revive the traditional economy of the coastal area. “The U. S. Army Corps of Enginers have never been helpful to the environment unless we force them to pay attention to these issues. I am on this hunger strike to stop this harmful dredging of the bay. The state of Texas regularly gives tickets to fishers for harvesting oysters that are smaller than 3 inches but now it is planning to dump mud on and destroy 700 acres of oyster reefs. This expedited plan to dredge the bay will kill our efforts to develop this fishing cooperative,” said Wilson The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, based at its Rural Training and Research Center, in Epes, Alabama, has been contracted, as part of the legal settlement, to provide technical assistance in developing the commercial fishing cooperative. Cornelius Blanding, Federation Executive Director said, “We have been working with fishers in the Matagorda Bay area to develop a cooperative. This dredging, without suitable environmental protections, will imperil this important grassroots economic development and revitalization effort. We have reached out to our contacts in the Biden Administration to ask them to stop this dredging until a new EIS is developed and approved. We are especially concerned about the disturbance and dispersal of mercury in the bay as well as the destruction of oyster reefs and shrimp breeding estuaries ” A group of environmental organizations, connected with Earthworks, held a protest rally, together with kayaks in the bay, at the end of the Lavaca Bay Causeway, the site of Diane Wilson’s hunger strike, on Sunday, April 25th. This rally was held to call attention to her hunger strike and urge the USACOE and President Biden’s Administration to stop the dredging and the export of crude oil. Persons interested in supporting Diane Wilson’s hunger strike and campaign to stop the dredging and export of oil may contact her through: http://www.facebook.com/unreasonablewoman or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Atlanta, Georgia, January 6, 2020- For almost a century, the number of Black farmers and Black-owned land steadily declined. One of the primary reasons for that decline was and continues to be heirs’ property. More than 60 percent of Black farmers currently operate on heirs’ property. Heirs’ property—land owned by two or more people, usually with a common ancestor who died without leaving a legal will—is the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black farmers.
John Deere is assisting the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/ Land Assistance Fund—the oldest and largest Black farmer institution and only cooperatively owned organization of Black farmers, landowners and cooperatives in the country—in its efforts to address heirs property and leverage additional expertise and resources around their Regional Heirs’ Property & Mediation Center. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives has been leading grassroots solutions on heirs’ property, land retention and cooperative wealth building in African American communities in the rural south for over 53 years.
“The partnership with The Federation will advance resources that will effectively secure property ownership for Black farmers and their families,” said Marc Howze, Group President, Lifecycle Solutions and Chief Administrative Officer for John Deere. “We have a tremendous opportunity to make an impactful difference in the community.”
“We are pleased to partner with John Deere to help inform and guide their focus, partnerships and resources around heirs’ property,” said Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/ Land Assistance Fund. “Over the last 53 years, we have identified resource gaps that prevent Black farmers from resolving their heirs’ property issues. Access to trusted and affordable legal assistance in rural communities of color continues to be a significant challenge for Black farmers,”
One of the goals of the partnership will be to provide more legal resources to help farmers gain clear title to their land. John Deere will provide key investments in the federation’s Legal Internship Program and National Heirs’ Property Conference over the next five years.
“Our commitment signals the beginning of a broader partnership that will unlock the productivity and economic value harnessed in land ownership,” said John C. May, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for John Deere.
Access to trusted legal assistance is often the greatest challenge heirs’ property owners face. There is a shortage of trusted attorneys who specialize in handling heirs’ property cases. The Federation has successfully worked with Southern University Law Center and other historically Black law schools to create a pipeline of attorneys who fill this gap. Over the last 53 years, the Federation has provided fertile soil to grow land retention professionals and attorneys. The Federation’s Legal Internship Program has been a successful model to expose law students to heirs’ property issues and prepare them to go into rural communities and provide the legal assistance needed to save Black-owned land.
Monica Armster Rainge, the Federation’s Director of Land Retention and Advocacy and an agricultural lawyer, started as a legal intern at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in 1996. “Law Schools rarely focus on the unique legal issues heirs’ property owners face, so my internship experience with the Federation was an eye-opener. I did not know that this was a career choice with so much opportunity to make a real difference in my community,” said Rainge.
Over the years, the Federation has been a training incubator for many of today’s national experts in Black land retention. “We are preparing the next generation of Black lawyers and professionals to meet the growing legal needs in our communities. I am honored to pay my experience forward,” said Rainge.
The Federation’s Legal Internship Program provides law students with a twelve (12) week internship opportunity to assist licensed attorneys with land tenure and heirs’ property issues across the Southeastern United States where heirs’ property is most prevalent. Summer legal interns work under the supervision of a staff attorney in (1) researching and clearing property titles, (2) conducting family meetings and conferences, (3) participating in land retention workshops, (4) researching law and updating legal guides and brochures, (5) drafting legal documents including wills and (6) organizing Community Wills Clinics.
In addition to supporting the Legal Internship Program, Deere’s commitment will include a major sponsorship of the Federation’s National Heirs’ Property Conference over the next five years. The National Heirs’ Property Conference known as “FORWARD” is the federation’s largest heirs’ property event of the year. The conference is intentionally designed to empower heirs’ property owners with the strategies and resources they need to clear their title and make their land a wealth-building asset. FORWARD is the nation’s largest gathering of heirs’ property owners and passionate land retention practitioners from across the US. The 2nd Annual National Heirs’ Property Conference was a virtual held on, Dec. 2-4, ,2020. This year’s conference will be held on December 1-3, 2021.
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, entering its 53nd year, assists limited-resource farmers, landowners, and cooperatives across the South with business planning, debt restructuring, marketing expertise, and a whole range of other services to ensure the retention of land ownership and cooperatives as a tool for social and economic justice. The overall mission is to reverse the trend of black land loss and be a catalyst for the development of self-supporting communities via cooperative economic development, land retention and advocacy. More information is available at: http://www.federation.coop.
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives held its 52nd. Annual Meeting this past weekend in Birmingham and Epes, Alabama. The meeting was attended by 400 or more cooperative members, government officials and other guests.
The 52nd celebration began with the Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner at the BJCC in Birmingham. The award is named for Mrs. Witherspoon, a founding member of the Federation, who served for many years as Manager of the Freedom Quilting Bee in Alberta, Alabama (Wilcox County) and promoted the civil rights and economic justice movements among Black and poor people in her community.
The Federation’s Board of Directors designated Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson, President of PUSH/Rainbow Coalition, who has a long history of working with the Federation, as this year’s award recipient. Due to health concerns, Rev. Jackson was unable to attend the dinner but sent his son Jonathan Jackson to represent him at the dinner.
Jonathan Jackson, who is an officer of PUSH in Chicago, accepted the award for his father and praised the work of the Federation in raising issues connected by Black farmers and the loss of Black land ownership over the years.
Jonathan told a story about his son in elementary school telling other students that a photo on the wall was his grandfather. The other students did not believe him but he came back the next day and asked them where was their grandfather’s picture because he knew his grandfather was on the wall.
Jackson used this story to ask the banquet audience, “What have you done to advance the society; what have you done to make this a more peaceful and harmonious world.”
The meeting continued on Friday and Saturday at the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center, near Epes, Alabama. Friday morning included a workshop on the resources available from USDA agencies, available to Black farmers and other historically disadvantaged and underserved farmers and landowners, across the nation and in communities around the South in the Federation’s membership territory.
Among the USDA agencies represented on the panel were the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Farm Service Agency (FSC), Forest Service, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Office of Public and Faith Partnerships (Section 2501 Program), Risk Management Agency (RMA) and others. The panel was followed by almost an hour of questions from farmers and rural advocates in the audience.
Friday afternoon was filled with concurrent workshops on Land Retention, Heirs Property, Cooperative Development, joint agricultural marketing, safe handling of agricultural produce and Credit Union Development. A forestry tour of the timber resources on the land surrounding the Rural Training Center was also held. These workshops were followed by a delicious fish fry and an active auction of co-op products and contributed items, including a one-year subscription to the Greene County Democrat provided by the Co-Publishers of this newspaper.
Saturday morning began with a spirited and spiritual prayer breakfast featuring a special sermon on “God is able” by Rev. Wendell H. Paris of the New Hope Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi and a former staff member of the Federation.
The remainder of Saturday was a business meeting of the Federation’s cooperative membership who heard reports of the programmatic and financial status of the Federation. Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director gave his Management and Stewardship Report suggesting the need for some by-law changes. The membership, divided into state caucuses to discuss by-law changes and updates. The membership voted to increase cooperative dues from $250 to $300 per year and individual membership fees from $25 to $50 per year.
For more information on the Federation or to purchase an individual membership or to make a general contribution to support the work of the Federation, go to the organization’s website at: http://www.federation.coop.
East Point, GA (May 13, 2019)- Cornelius Blanding was honored at the 9th annual Leadership Awards ceremony and dinner in Chicago on Sunday, May 5, 2019 along with three other leadership honorees. The Leadership Awards are part of the James Beard Foundation’s Impact Programs, which works to establish a more sustainable food system through education, advocacy, and thought leadership. Referred to as the Oscars of the food world, the prestigious award will hopefully shed light on the plight of black farmers, landowners and cooperatives in the South as well as provide new opportunities for partnerships throughout the food system.
Blanding has been the Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, since 2015. The Federation is a non-profit, cooperative association involving over 20,000 low-income rural families organized into more than 75 cooperatives, credit unions, and community-based economic development groups across the rural South. It is chartered to work in 13 southern states in some of the most economically depressed communities in the Black Belt Region.
Long before transitioning to the director, he served in many capacities within the Federation for 18 years providing education, technical assistance to farmers and developing agricultural cooperatives. For 23 years, he’s been an energetic advocate for Black land loss prevention, economic advancement for rural farmers through cooperative development, and policies that support farmers. According to Blanding, “Cooperatives are still being formed out of necessity to combat issues that are relevant to today’s economic, social, and political landscape. Access to credit and markets, food security, land preservation, and climate change are all issues directly impacting the longevity of southern black farm families.”
Under Blanding’s leadership, the Federation is focused on cooperative development, land retention, and advocacy in the US and around the world. In Cuba, his leadership led to creating an open market for Federation farmers to grow and export black beans to meet the diet demands of Cubans. In the United States Virgin Islands, he assisted small farmers in creating the first farm cooperative to help increase food production to reduce and address the exponential rates of food imports promoting greater food sovereignty.
The other 2019 honorees also included: The Pioneer Valley Workers Center Women’s Collective; Leah Penniman, Co-Executive Director & Program Manager, Soul Fire Farm; Sean Sherman, Founder & CEO, The Sioux Chef; and Anim Steel, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Real Food Generation. This 2019 group was recognized for showing emerging promise or specific outstanding initiatives, as well as for bodies of work or lifetime achievement, excellence of work, innovation of approach, and scale of impact within a community or the nation were among the criteria used to choose this year’s honorees, selected by ballots submitted by past
More information is available at the Federation’s website: http://www.federation.coop.
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, entering its 52thyear, assists limited resource farmers, landowners, and cooperatives across the South with business planning, debt restructuring, marketing expertise, and a whole range of other services to ensure the retention of land ownership and cooperatives as a tool for social and economic justice. The overall mission is to reverse the trend of black land loss and be a catalyst for the development of self supporting communities via cooperative economic development, land retention and
U. S. Senator Doug Jones was the luncheon speaker at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives celebration of National Co-op Month at its Rural Training and Research Center near Epes, Alabama. The Federation had a series of workshops on cooperative and credit union development and land retention issues during the morning. This included a presentation by several members of the SoGoCo, meat goat producers’ co-op on their efforts to promote goat production among family farmers in west Alabama. Rev. Samuel Fairley, Rev. Constance Scott and Pamela Madzima talked about their work with SoGoCo to encourage farmers to produce goats. The co-op now has 30 members with over 500 nannies, female reproductive goats. The cooperative is looking forward to having a large enough membership to support a goat processing plant. “We want to produce goat sausage and other quality cuts of goat meat for consumers and restaurants in the area,” said Fairley. The Federation’s Land Retention Specialist and Attorney, Monica Rainge, spoke on the problems of land tenure by Black farmers indicating that “heir property ownership” has become a significant obstacle to Black land owners making maximum utilization of their land. “When the original land owner dies without a will, the land title passes to all of the heirs without a division. This means all of the heirs have an un-divided interest in the land and all the heirs must agree on any decisions affecting the utilization of the land, including the application for USDA funds and programs. If several generations pass before the family tries to resolve this problem, there can be multiple heirs spread around the country, which makes it difficult for families to make decisive and timely decisions affecting the use of the land,” said Rainge. In his luncheon remarks, Senator Jones said he had been working since he was elected on bipartisan themes that would be helpful to rural people and communities in the State of Alabama including affordable health care, expanding high speed internet services and support for farmers. Jones said he was working on several aspects of the 2018 Farm Bill, which was now in a conference committee to reconcile differences between the Senate and House versions of the legislation. Jones said he had sponsored a proposal with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina to provide support and assistance to heir property landowners, which is part of the Senate bill. He is also supporting an effort to provide support for veteran, minority and beginning farmers, which would provide outreach and technical assistance for these groups and help to pass down the farming legacy from older farmers to the next generations. Jones said he was also working to protect the basic safety net and disaster assistance sections of the Farm Bill as well as prevent excessive cuts to food and nutrition programs. “Overall I am looking for ways to bring people together and seek bi-partisan common ground in a Washington D. C. that is broken. This has been a difficult ten days for our nation and I hope you go out and vote. You also must demand that your public officials be more responsible and work together. “We learned from the period of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama that politicians could fan the flames of racism with their words and rhetoric. Governor George Wallace and Police Commissioner Bull Conner made things more difficult with what they said in the 1960’s and the current President’s words on the caravan of poor immigrants from Central America and Mexico weigh on our nation’s discourse. “We must put our common good at the forefront of our discussions and seize the opportunity to speak and work for unity and not discord in our nation,” said Jones. Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation observed that, “ We appreciate Senator Doug Jones coming to the Federation’s Rural Training Center in Epes. We have had Congressmen and women, three Secretaries of Agriculture, numerous government officials, but Doug Jones is the first U. S. Senator to visit our facilities. He also came on a great day to celebrate National Co-op Month.
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.
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: http://www.federation.coop or http://www.give2federation.org or call 404/765-0991 in Atlanta and 205/652-9676 in Epes, Alabama.
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, 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: http://www.federation.coop.