[Marxism] Ralph Paige, Champion of Black Farmers, Dies at 74
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Sat Jul 7 14:21:56 MDT 2018
NY Times, July 7, 2018
Ralph Paige, Champion of Black Farmers, Dies at 74
By Daniel E. Slotnik
Ralph Paige, a nationally prominent advocate for black farmers who
fought to save their land and to win them financial compensation for
what they contended were years of government discrimination, died on
June 28 in Atlanta. He was 74.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said Cornelius Blanding,
executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land
Assistance Fund, an advocacy organization for African-American farmers
that grew out of the civil rights movement and that Mr. Paige led for 30
years, beginning in 1985.
In that leadership role he helped organize black farmers and others in
the Southeast into economic cooperatives, educated them on how best to
retain their land and became their spokesman.
The life of a family farmer is never easy: Financial insecurity is the
norm, smaller farms have to compete with deep-pocketed agribusiness
giants, and months of toil can be wiped away by a crop blight or a freak
Moreover, many black farmers say racial discrimination makes it more
difficult for them to maintain ownership of land and receive financial
support from local institutions as well as the Department of
Agriculture. The ranks of black farmers dwindled in the 20th century.
The federation sees cooperatives, in which farms join together to act as
a single, stronger economic entity, as an effective way for black farms
to compete as self-sufficient businesses with little need for help from
outside institutions, which can be biased or even predatory.
During Mr. Paige’s 46 years with the federation — he joined it in 1969 —
he helped organize dozens of cooperatives and 18 community development
credit unions across the Southeast. The federation now represents about
75 cooperatives, made up of some 20,000 families.
He also helped educate farmers on how to retain their land through legal
means, like the drafting wills — measures he considered critical to
defending rural black communities.
“This isn’t just another black farmer going out of business,” he was
quoted as saying in The New York Times in 1992, referring to the
disappearance of black farms. “It is our community losing a piece of the
Mr. Paige challenged what he saw as a dearth of financial support
offered to black farmers by the Department of Agriculture, which he
contended had disproportionately denied loans, disaster relief and other
monetary aid for black farmers. And the loans black farmers did receive,
he said, were often smaller and took longer to process than those for
“When President Abraham Lincoln created the United States Department of
Agriculture in 1862, he referred to it as the People’s Department,” Mr.
Paige wrote in 2010 in a column for The San Marcos Daily Record, a Texas
newspaper. “The problem is that its services have never been available
to all the people.”
To draw attention to the issue in 1992, Mr. Paige organized a caravan of
farmers to descend on Washington for a protest rally. He later became
instrumental in recruiting and preparing plaintiffs for a large
class-action lawsuit filed against the Agriculture Department in 1997.
In the lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman, the plaintiffs asserted that they
faced foreclosure and financial ruin because the department had denied
them timely loans and other financial assistance. They also argued that
since the agency had closed its civil rights office during the Reagan
administration, there was no productive way to address their complaints.
“He dedicated a lot of our resources and our organization and our
staff’s time to actually working with plaintiffs, filing paperwork,
educating them about the lawsuit,” Mr. Blanding said of Mr. Paige in a
In 1999, a federal district judge in Washington approved a settlement
agreement that led to a government payout of more than $2 billion to
more than 15,000 claimants.
The case inspired similar litigation on behalf of female, Native
American and Latino farmers who contended that the department had also
discriminated against them.
Ralph McDaniel Paige was born on July 28, 1943, in LaGrange, Ga., to
Edward and Dora Paige, maintenance workers at local businesses. He
graduated from high school in LaGrange and attended Fort Valley State
University, a historically black college in Fort Valley, Ga., where he
played on the football team.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1967 and was a
high school teacher and coach before joining the federation.
Mr. Paige first worked as a co-op organizer in Georgia before heading
the federation’s business development office.
In 1985, the federation merged with the Emergency Land Fund, an
organization dedicated to protecting black-owned land, to become the
Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. In becoming
its second executive director that year, Mr. Paige succeeded Charles
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