Federation of Southern Cooperatives celebrates 50 years of empowering minority landowners, family farmers

Rep. John Lewis, a prominent civil rights leader representing Georgia’s 5th District, speaks at the Estelle Witherspoon Awards Dinner on August 17. [photo: Federation of Southern Cooperatives]Rep. John Lewis, a prominent civil rights leader representing Georgia’s 5th District, speaks at the Estelle Witherspoon Awards Dinner on August 17. [photo: Federation of Southern Cooperatives]Rep. John Lewis, a prominent civil rights leader representing Georgia’s 5th District, speaks at the Estelle Witherspoon Award Dinner on August 17. [photo: Federation of Southern Cooperatives]The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, which has worked for half a century to reverse the trend of African American land loss and spur land-based economic development, celebrated its 50th Anniversary last week during the Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner in Birmingham, Alabama.

During a stirring speech at the awards ceremony, prominent civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) called cooperatives a “key strategy” in the Civil Rights Movement. Echoing Martin Luther King Jr., Lewis urged audience members to keep their “eyes on the prize” of achieving true and lasting equality, despite setbacks.

Charles Prejean, the first Executive Director of the Federation, also spoke at the event, reminding the audience of the Federation’s long history of prevailing against staggering odds.

“The Federation survived because we are on the right side. We want families to succeed and have opportunity,” Prejean said.

Organized in 1976, the Federation continues to assist Black family farmers across the U.S. South with farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and an entire range of services to ensure family farm survivability.

Preserving the land of African-American family farmers in the South and helping them use that land in a productive, collaborative and sustainable manner is a major priority of the Federation. In 1920, Black farmers owned more than 15 million acres in the South; by 1960, that number had declined to fewer than 6 million acres.

A recent partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights will bolster the Federation’s efforts to assist minority and other socially disadvantaged landowners who own heirs’ property and/or experience land-related disputes across the U.S. South.

In a book published by the Federation for it’s 50th Anniversary, 50 Years of Courage, Cooperation, Commitment and Community, M. J. O’Brien writes that the 50-year history of the Federation “is one of service, struggle and empowerment against overwhelming odds,” noting that the Federation has dedicated half a century to some of the “most impoverished people in America” who “also happen to be some of the most resilient.”

NCBA CLUSA congratulates the Federation for 50 years of working to reverse rural poverty and inspiring cooperators everywhere. Look for more coverage of this milestone anniversary in the coming weeks!

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