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 http://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).

Black Lawyer argues Mississippi’s flag represents racial discrimination; battle over Confederate flag continues

By Lawyers Herald Staff Writer

State of Miss flag

Mississippi state flag which includes the Confederate flag.

Voters will decide whether to replace the state’s old flag, which sports the Confederate battle cross, with a new flag that would have 20 white stars on a blue square. A Mississippi lawyer sued Governor Phil Bryant for flying the state flag, an emblem tantamount to hateful government speech against himself and African American residents of Mississippi’s rights.Carlos Moore alleged that the current flag contains a Confederate emblem with a racial discriminatory purpose to subjugate African-Americans to second class status and promote the notion of white supremacy. Thus, his constitutional rights have been violated along with all African American citizens of the state.
Moore stated in his complaint, which was lodged before the jurisdiction of Southern Mississippi U.S. District Court, that time is of the essence for the removal of the current state flag from all public display on public lands and adoption of a non-discriminatory state flag. He also emphasized that there was a recent mass killing by a young white supremacist who was a Confederate battle flag sympathizer and militant. Mississippi is the only state that incorporates the Confederate emblem flag into its state flag.
Moore said that he invoked some of the same language from the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which the U.S. Supreme Court solidified to legalize same-sex marriage nationally.
“Such case is the law of the land, and if it applies to same-sex couples, and they’ve got the right to be respected; surely African Americans have the right to be respected too,” Moore said in an interview.
However, Republican Bryant, who recently issued a proclamation naming April as Confederate Heritage Month, has said voters should decide whether to keep the flag used since 1894.
He said that he will rely on a landmark case filed in the mid-1990s in Georgia. A black resident of Atlanta sued over the design of Georgia’s flag, which then displayed the same Confederate battle emblem that’s still on the Mississippi banner.
In such lawsuit, it argued that the flag was racist because the Confederate emblem was added in 1956 to defy school desegregation rulings. U.S. District Judge Orinda D. Evans ruled in January 1996 that she would not make Georgia stop flying its flag because: “There simply is no evidence in the record indicating that the flag itself results in discrimination against African-Americans.”
In a report by The Oregonian, House Speaker Tina Kotek stated, “After attempting again this week to reach out to leadership in both the Mississippi House and Senate, I now believe it is time for us to act. We should remove the Mississippi flag.”
Constitutional law expert Matt Steffey said that there are some issues with Moore’s legal claims.
“The 14th Amendment is not usually read to be concerned with symbolic matters, and the flag is by definition a symbol,” Steffey said. “And while the lawsuit attempts to tie this to violence, at least in a courtroom, there’s no way to establish that.”