May 11, 2007
Contact: Jackie Ward   (404) 765-0991

The Federation/LAF Celebrates 40 Years in August 2007
Honoring Tavis Smiley and Hank Sanders

This year, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund will commemorate 40 years of service to rural communities in the southeast at its 40th Anniversary Celebration and Sixth Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner.  This historic celebration will take place at 7:00 PM Thursday, August 16, 2007 at the Birmingham Sheraton Hotel, in Birmingham, AL.  Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-SC) will serve as the 40th Anniversary Event Chairperson. For information on contributing to and attending our event please go to sponsorship levels.

We are honored this year to present the Sixth Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award to two outstanding advocates for social and economic justice; Mr. Tavis Smiley, broadcaster, author, and philanthropist; and the Honorable Henry “Hank” Sanders, Alabama State Senator, attorney, civil rights activist and author. 

Mrs. Estelle Witherspoon, for whom the prestigious Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award is named, was the leader and founder of the Freedom Quilting Bee in Alberta, Alabama.  She was renowned for her service toward the empowerment of those in her community.  Mrs. Witherspoon was an advocate for civil rights, as well as social and economic justice.  In the mid sixties, African-Americans in the Gees Bend community or rural Alabama farmed on rented land.  Because of their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, many were evicted from their homes and lost their jobs. In response to this injustice, Mrs. Witherspoon worked tirelessly to help poor African American women in the Gees Bend community of Wilcox County, AL use their talent and skill in quilt making.  The women began to sell their quilts, with the encouragement and assistance of a network of supporters from around the country. As their cause gained support and their work gained admiration, Freedom Quilting Bee quilts were sold in Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bonwits and Lord & Taylor’s.  The quilts were exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute’s Folk Life Festivals and the Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC and featured in articles in Vogue, House and Garden, and the New York Times.

Over our 40-year history, the Federation has built on the work of the Civil Rights Movement and that of Mrs. Witherspoon by organizing community-based economic development cooperatives among 30,000 low-income families in over 100 of the most economically exploited and persistently poor rural communities in America.

This is an exciting time for us and we invite you to also join us for our Annual Meeting, Fish Fry and Goat Tasting in Epes, AL on Friday and Saturday, August 17-18, 2007. 

Throughout our 40th year we will be placing historic and contemporary materials on our website to honor Black farmers, rural communities generally, and the cooperative economic development work of the Federation/LAF. As part of our historic materials, we have recently placed on our website historic photos of Black farmers in the 1930's and 1940's from the Farm Security Administration's photography project.

Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 39th 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.