May 26, 2009  
Contact: Heather Gray - 404 765 0991


Melbah Smith with her family at the National Press Club in Washington DC
(click on the photo above and here for photos of the Cooperative Hall of Fame event)

ATLANTA...In May 2009 the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund's Melbah Smith was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame at the National Press Club in Washington DC. "Melbah retired from the Federation last year," said Ralph Paige, Executive Director, "but her important work and contributions in cooperative economic development will continue through the Federation and through her example. It is fitting that the national cooperative community would honor this remarkable hero and leader from our southern region!"

Established by the National Cooperative Business Association, the Cooperative Hall of Fame honors those distinguished individuals whose contributions to cooperative business have been genuinely heroic.

Inductees are limited to a prestigious group carefully selected to preserve the nature of this special recognition. Each year a select few men and women are honored because of their genuinely heroic contributions to the enhancement of cooperative enterprise and to the advancement of the principles of cooperation.

The Cooperative Development Foundation administers the Cooperative Hall of Fame. Nominations are received annually and reviewed by two committees, each composed of current leaders from the various sectors of the U.S. cooperative movement.

Probably more than any other individual in the rural southeastern United States, Melbah is the “mother” of cooperatives; the “nurturer” of cooperatives; the “creator” of cooperatives; and one with the ingrained ‘knowledge base” of cooperatives which includes every conceivable step in starting a cooperative, maintaining a cooperative and the consequences of not doing it right!!! Click here for her biography.

Melbah epitomizes the cooperative philosophy in everything she does. She stands as the ultimate organizer of collectivism as Melbah, through her extraordinary work with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives through the decades, knows almost instinctively the importance of cooperatives in low-income communities. She’s seen the difference cooperatives have made in the rural South in terms in income, sustainability and empowerment.
Whenever we at the Federation want to be guided in the organizing of cooperatives anywhere in the South we will consult Melbah. This is because of all the reasons mentioned above but even for more than that.

Melbah will make the point that cooperatives require members to have a unified goal. "It’s the idea that sparks the cooperative” she will say, and if that idea is not shared by members the cooperative will be created on shaky grounds!
Melbah has taught me that cooperatives are serious business and require serious commitment from members. And Melbah will measure commitment, for example, in terms of financial investment from members, time spent in committee work and involvement in decision-making. Further, Melbah will keep people’s “feet to the fire” if they don’t measure up and support the needs of the cooperative. She knows people! In that sense she’s realistic. She has that some people are simply not meant for collective work and are instead too ego driven, greedy or individualistic. Understanding this realist about humans is essential in cooperative economic development work.

She has used all this vast knowledge to create cooperatives, help cooperatives and inspire thousands of us across the South.

Installing Melbah Smith in the Cooperative Hall of Fame was, we think, an essential action on the part of the cooperative community in the United States. If anyone deserves this it is Melbah Smith. Nevertheless, Melbah was already installed in our own annals of fame in the South from the grassroots to the office suites in the region. Her integrity, leadership and commitment are simply remarkable. The Cooperative Hall of Fame followed suit by offering Melbah this honor and it too would be enhanced by acknowledgin Melbah as an icon in the cooperative community.

Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 42nd 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.