July 15,1998
Contacts: Atlanta • Jerry Pennick or  
Heather Gray at (404) 765-0991
Presentation given by Ralph Paige, Executive Director  
of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund,  
July 15, 1998, at the 89th NAACP Annual Convention plenary in Atlanta 
“The Plight of African American Farmers & Black Land Loss”
I bring you greetings from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund membership. First of all I want to take this opportunity to thank the NAACP, Mr. Julian Bond and Mr. Kwesi Mfume for inviting the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund to address the NAACP at its 89th annual convention. I want to express special appreciation to the NAACP for elevating the issue of Black land and farm loss to such a prominent place on its agenda. This is surely an issue of concern for all America, especially Black America. A country this great must have pluralistic land ownership if we are truly concerned about human rights and dignity. 

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund is a 31 year old organization and one of the few that has been in  the struggle to save Black farmers from becoming extinct. 

Most of our members individually own less than 100 acres of land but collectively more than 1 million acres.  However, Black America and the remaining 18,000 Black farmers collectively own  nearly 5 million rural acres of land at an estimated value of over $250 million dollars. This is one of the greatest economic assets owned by Black America. It goes without saying, that this hidden asset must be protected at all costs! 

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives was born out of the civil rights movement in 1967 with Black land based economic development as its vision.  We work throughout the South in more than 100 of the poorest counties in the country. 

Our program areas include: 

  • land retention to save the remaining Black farmers; 
  • the development of cooperatives and credit unions as a self-help community development strategy. (We presently have more than 75 cooperatives and credit unions as members - they include agriculture, marketing and production cooperatives, added value cooperatives, credit unions and worker-owned cooperatives for poor people.);
  • an advocacy program for public policy changes to assist family farmers where we work with over 50 other organizations;
  • a  marketing program where we have direct marketing, farmers markets, commercial and  international markets;
  • and, an international cooperative development and farmer to farmer program in Africa - specifically in The Gambia. 
Black America loses millions of dollars annually as a result of land lost not to mention the untold loss in related economic development opportunities. 

Unfortunately, whether a Black loses land through foreclosure, lack of credit, tax sales, or other reasons, the land rarely, if ever, goes to another Black person. 
Some causes of Black land loss include: 

  • past and present discrimination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
  • lack of credit from public and private lending institutions;
  • lack of access to programs and technical assistance;
  • lack of competent legal assistance;
  • lack of funding for 1890 Black land grant institutions and community based organizations.
As the NAACP and other organizations struggle to achieve  economic independence for Black America they can no longer afford to avoid the importance of land ownership and development if they hope to have any chance of reaching that goal. 

Black individuals, organizations and churches should begin to purchase land and assist Blacks who are about to lose land by bidding at foreclosure sales, tax and partition sales. We have established a revolving loan fund for this purpose. 

We at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives have worked through 6 administrations - from  Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, to Clinton. For the first time we now have the opportunity to address the problem of Black land loss, offer remedies, and help stop Black land loss. 

There are some issues that could be addressed right now to assist Black farmers and landowners. They are as follows: 

  • First of all, we ask that the Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Congress fully implement the USDA’s civil rights action team’s 92 recommendations which were developed in 1997.
  • We ask that the Secretary and Congress fully implement the 146 recommendations from the small farm commission report. 
  • We ask that tobacco farmers be protected in any tobacco legislation that passes Congress.
  • We ask for national support to demand that Congress repeal the 1996 FARM credit provision. In 1996 Congress prohibited the USDA from extending credit to farmers who received debt write downs. This is especially hard for Black farmers who have no other place to go for credit but the USDA (known as the lender of last resort).  Repealing this is especially important considering the current disaster in the South - the fires and the drought - in which many farmers have lost all their crops and cannot qualify for loans because of this provision.
  • We ask for national support for Congress to fully fund the Minority Farmers Rights Bill at the approved annual level of $10 million dollars to provide technical assistance and support services to Black farmers.
  • We ask for national support of Congress to approve 500 million dollars in operating and ownership loans for Black farmers - both direct and guaranteed loans.
  • Finally, we ask for national support to demand that Congress lift the 2 year statute of limitations it has placed on Black farmers to sue the USDA. This statute is totally unfair. Reagan had abolished the Office of Civil Rights at the USDA and there was no place to complain. In fact, all Black farmers should have the right to be a part of the class action suit. We also call for immediate settlement of all pending civil rights cases.
We challenge the NAACP to join us in a collaboration through much needed lobbying, policy analysis and legal assistance and to continue in its effort to encourage its membership to support Black farmers. 

Only through such a collaboration, can we stem the tide of Black land loss and restore our right to be stewards of the land.  Many of our ancestors lost their lives to own land, to earn a living from the land, to raise their families in the richness of the Southern rural culture that is distinctly our own.  Help us hold on to this important and valuable resource. We have a right to this land!!!

Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 30th year,  assists Black family farmers across the South with farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family farm survivability.