The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Delta Caucus Pays Tribute to Legacy of Ralph Paige, a Great American, this July 4

Posted on July 04, 2018 at 01:33 PM

As we celebrate America’s Independence this July 4, the Delta Grassroots Caucus would like to pay tribute to a great American champion of social, economic and racial justice, Ralph Paige, who led the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund for 30 years.

Ralph Paige passed away on June 28, 2018 after a life-time of service for low-income people in the South, African American and other minority farmers, and organizing 70 cooperatives and 18 community development credit unions over a broad range of rural America.

Among his many achievements, Mr. Paige spearheaded efforts starting in the mid-1990s and continuing for two decades to bring justice to many African American and other minority farmers who were discriminated against at USDA in credit, conservation and rural development.

These efforts culminated in the Pigford I and Pigford II class action cases, becoming the largest successful discrimination lawsuit against the US federal government, bringing payments of $2.5 billion in payments to thousands of black farm families.

Mr. Paige also supported discrimination settlements for Hispanic, Native American and women farmers who were discriminated against by USDA.

Bob Nash, Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development and later Director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel for President Clinton, praised Ralph Paige by saying he “literally saved farms and lives all across the South. Ralph will be remembered by thousands across the South who still have their land because of him.”

Bob Nash’s wife, Janis Kearney, White House diarist for President Clinton and founding publisher of Writing Our World Press in Little Rock, said “Ralph Paige was a passionate and strong advocate for all those who lived in rural areas.”

Delta Caucus partners remember the great work of Ralph Paige–Delta Caucus director Lee Powell and long-time family farmer advocate Harvey Joe Sanner of Arkansas worked with Mr. Paige over the decades. Powell recalls working with Ralph Paige when Powell was a Presidential appointee at USDA in the Clinton administration, as President Clinton was supporting efforts to redress the sad history of USDA’s discrimination against African Americans and other minorities.

Powell recalls that senior USDA officials in the Clinton administration clearly saw it was time for the Department to change its climate toward minorities, including aiding limited resource farmers. This led–among many other initiatives–to an expansion of the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program and later to farmers’ market programs for seniors, greater use of food stamps at farmers’ markets, and other efforts to promote smaller-scale farmers. It was a difficult struggle and we still have a ways to go, but Ralph Paige’s leadership in working with grassroots, state and federal levels led to substantial progress over the many years of his leadership.

To cite just one smaller-scale but interesting anecdote, Secretary Dan Glickman decided that USDA national headquarters needed to practice what it preached and instructed Powell to use the senior executives’ parking lot on the Mall for a farmers’ market for produce farmers in the mid-Atlantic region. After some dismissive comments from some of the executives who didn’t like the inconvenience and predicted that the USDA Farmers Market would fade away soon, with the support of Ralph Paige the first USDA Farmers Market was held in 1996 before a big crowd at the national headquarters.

Ralph Paige brought up a group of farmers all the way from Georgia to support the effort (and also sell a lot of their produce to the throng at USDA)—and they had to get up very early in the morning to make it there on time for the opening of the market.

Contrary to the nay-sayers, that USDA market on the national Mall still exists today. This was a minor example (well, okay, it wasn’t minor if you were one of the small farmers from Virginia, Maryland and Georgia who made some income from it) of Ralph’s dedication, but it shows that he was always ready to help projects large and small.

The larger-scale WIC Farmers’ market, EBT use for SNAP, senior farmers’ market programs, and the farm-to-school efforts that Paige began promoting in the late twentieth century in cooperation with many other nutrition and small farmer advocates provided significant new markets for many smaller-scale farmers across the country, while increasing access to fresh, nutritious produce for many low-income Americans.

Of course the monumental Pigford litigation was just beginning in the 1990s, but thanks to the network of leaders Ralph Paige worked with, they persevered and the gains became much larger over time.

The Federation’s creation of so many cooperatives and credit unions across the South were a victory for all lower-income people in the rural South, and not just minorities.

Harvey Joe Sanner, Delta Caucus senior ag adviser. president of the American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas, and a long-time advocate for family farmers, recalls working with Ralph Paige and lobbying for a variety of initiatives to help farmers over many years.

Sanner lobbied President Clinton for Ralph Paige and Jim DuPree, an Arkansas farmer who is very knowledgeable about agriculture policy, to serve on the 21st Century Commission on Production Agriculture, founded by President Clinton and continued in the Bush administration. On that commission, Paige, DuPree and others recommended that the family farm system was the best for our country, that farm safety net programs for farmers were essential in downturns such as declines in prices, and it was not wise to concentrate all land-ownership into corporate agriculture’s big business.

We all know that corporate agriculture has continued to grow in recent years—just as corporations and wealthier Americans have fared very well across all sectors of the US economy with our unfortunately increasing economic inequalty—and the Commission’s recommendations were not followed anywhere near as much as farm advocates like Paige, DuPree and Sanner would have liked; Nonetheless there is still a safety net for some funding to farmers when prices decline and other vicissitudes, and positive programs such as crop insurance.

Sanner emphasized that “Ralph Paige was greatly respected and liked by family farmers and rural development advocates all across the South.”

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives is currently led by Executive Director Cornelius Blanding. Ralph Paige worked out a succession before he retired in 2015 so that his work could go on after him. We know the Federation will continue the great work of Mr. Paige.

We would like to pass along extended excerpts from the Federation’s eulogy for Ralph Paige, who will truly be sorely missed.

Ralph Paige, former Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, dies at 74

It is with the saddest regret that we announce that Ralph Paige, former Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, died Thursday, June 28th. Mr. Paige served as Executive Director for 30 years from 1985 to 2015. He began working for the Federation in 1969 and served the organization for 46 years.

During his thirty years as Executive Director, he built the Federation into the premier organization representing Black farmers and low-income rural people in the South. He helped to organize 70 cooperatives and 18 community development credit unions during his tenure as Executive Director. He supported the development of the Federation’s unique Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama, including an agro-forestry component and forestry demonstrations.

He spearheaded efforts from the mid-1990’s forward to file suit against USDA for discrimination in credit, conservation and rural development. These efforts led to the historic Pigford I and Pigford II class action cases, which became the largest successful discrimination lawsuits against the U. S. Federal government and yielded $2.5 billion in payments to thousands of Black farm families. He also supported discrimination settlements for Native American, Hispanic and Women farmers who were also subjected to discrimination by USDA.

He worked on legislation to reform farm and rural policies to allow for the formation of the National Co-op Bank, creation of the Section 2501 Outreach and Technical Assistance Program for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, expansion of farm credit to include Micro-loans, appropriate to family-size farming operations; and the creation of the Rural Cooperative Development Program to support cooperative development and training centers, like the Federation’s at Epes.

His greatest legacy is that the Federation has continued and flourished, celebrating its 50th anniversary in August 2017. A succession plan that he initiated has replaced the ‘founding generation of core staff’ with a new generation of capable leadership to guide the organization for the next generation and into the future.

He received numerous awards including induction in to the Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2004, Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award from SCLC, George Washington Carver Hall of Fame at Tuskegee, Congressional Black Caucus Leadership Award, NCBA Co-op Month Leadership Award and many others.

Ralph leaves to cherish his memory, a wife of 51 years, Bernice, two children, Bernard and Kenyatta, five grand children and many relatives and friends.

**The wake for Ralph Paige: Thursday, July 5, 2018: The wake will be held at the Warren Temple United Methodist Church (416 E Depot St, LaGrange, GA 30241) from 6:00-8:00 pm(EST)**