USDA provides $5 million Heir Property Lending Fund
Federation celebrates 55th Annual Meeting

Rev Bernard Lafayette (center) receives Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award at Federation dinner; joined by L. To R. Cornelius Blanding, Federation Executive Director and Board members, Carrie Fulghum, Shirley Blakely, Helen Fields and Raymond Olds.
Federation Attorney Dania Davy, Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Cornelius Blanding, Federation Executive Director
Charles O. Prejean, first Executive Director of the Federation and his wife, Carmen Prejean speaking at Witherspoon award dinner
Part of crowd at Federation Annual Meeting at Epes
Cornelius Blanding giving his report at the Federation’s Business Meeting.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund celebrated its 55th Annual Meeting this past weekend.

The program began on Thursday evening, August 18, 2022, with the 21st Annual Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama. Rev. Bernard Lafayette, veteran civil rights leader, and teacher of Kingian non-violence, received the award named for Estelle Witherspoon, former manager of the Freedom Quilting Bee and a founding member of the Federation.

In his remarks, accepting the award, Rev. Lafayette said,” I am honored to receive this award from the Federation which has helped Black farmers and poor people change and impact their communities for 55 years. I urge you to involve more young people in your movement like we did in the 1960’s. Young people and students will make the difference in internalizing and institutionalizing the cooperative movement.”

Earlier in the day, there was a press conference at the hotel, where Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, announced a $5 million Heirs Property Relending Fund allocation to the Federation, in conjunction with Shared Capital, a CDFI, which will used to make loans to Black families with heir property problems.

The Heirs Property Relending Program was included in the 2018 Farm Bill after vigorous advocacy efforts by the Federation, Intertribal Agriculture Council, and the Rural Coalition. The Trump Administration delayed writing regulations to implement the needed program. Secretary Vilsack, under the Biden Administration, completed the regulations and put our the first call for proposals this year. The allocation to the Federation and two Indian land organizations, were the first made from the program.

Secretary Bronaugh indicated that the Federation would also receive an augmented Cooperative Agreement to provide technical and legal assistance to families encountering heir property issues. In his remarks accepting the announcement, Cornelius Blanding, Federation Executive Director said,”60% of all Black land is now owned jointly by families in heir property status. The Federation and Emergency Land Fund have been working on this problem for 45 years and these funds will help us to do a more effective job for our members and others with heir property problems.”

Attorney Dania Davy, who heads the Federation’s Land Retention Program, said “We are pleased to receive these funds which will enable families to clear titles, deal with reluctant heirs, and access more USDA resources. This will impact Black landowners with over a million acres, with a conservative value of $15 billion across our nation.

On Friday and Saturday, the meeting shifted to the Federation’s Rural Training and Research Center, near Epes, Alabama. Over 400 people from the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, and Texas attended the workshops, tours, demonstrations, prayer breakfast and business meeting held there over the next two days.

Friday began with a panel of USDA program representatives explaining their agency efforts at creating more equity and diversity in their staff and work.

Dr. Dewayne Goldman, Special Assistant for Equity to Secretary Vilsack, explained the Biden’s Administration’s equity efforts by saying, “Suppose you had three people standing outside a baseball stadium, with a six-foot fence, to see the game. One was 5 feet, one was 5 foot seven, and one was 6 feet tall. If each was given a one-foot stool stand on, this would be equality, everyone gets the same; but the smaller person would still not be able to see the game. Equity is needed to give each person the right size stool so they can actually see the game. Black farmers and other underserved farmers will receive equity in receiving and utilizing USDA resources.”

Goldman then explained the new sections in the just passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) which will benefit Black farmers and other underserved and financially distressed farmers. He was joined remotely on a zoom by Adam Zipkin with Senator Cory Booker’s office and Brandon Honeycutt from Senator Raphael Warnock’s office, who are on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and were influential in getting these provisions into the Inflation Reduction Act.

Goldman explained that the IRA, rescinds Section 1005 of the American Rescue Plan, which contained debt forgiveness for all BIPOC farmers. These provisions were challenged in Federal Court by white farmers, saying the provisions were discriminatory towards them and unconstitutional. These farmers and their right-wing allies stopped the program implementation.

The IRA contains $3.1 billion for loan modifications for farmers in financial distress and facing foreclosure. The IRA also contains $2.2 billion for farmers who suffered discrimination in receiving financial assistance from USDA.

Goldman asked for comments and assistance in drafting the regulations for implementation of these two sections in the IRA. He promised that “USDA would work expeditiously to get this relief to farmers who need assistance and to prevent foreclosures.”

On Friday afternoon workshops were held on Cooperative Development and Heirs Property issues. The day ended with a fish fry and auction.

Saturday’s program began with a Prayer Breakfast, with women wearing hats to honor deceased Kentucky Board member Mattie Mack. Rev. Wendell Paris preached a sermon based on Jeremiah 31.31, which deals with a new covenant with God. The prayer breakfast was followed by the annual business meeting, state caucus and the awarding of scholarship to four young people headed to college.

For more information on the work and programs of the Federation, go to the website: http://www.federation.coop, or call 205-652-9676 in Epes or 404-765-0991 in East Point, GA.

Newswire: Diane Wilson, environment justice activist enters fourth week of hunger strike to stop dredging in Matagorda Bay, Texas

Diane Wilson

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 wilsonalamobay@aol.com.

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: http://www.federation.coop or http://www.give2federation.org or call 404/765-0991 in Atlanta and 205/652-9676 in Epes, Alabama.

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