[Marxism] Ralph Paige, Champion of Black Farmers, Dies at 74

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
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 
weather event.

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 
country.”

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 
white farmers.

“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 
telephone interview.

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 
Prejean.



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