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United States Department of Agriculture Rural Business– Cooperative Service RBS Research Report 194 Black Farmers in America, 1865-2000 The Pursuit of Independent Farming and the Role of Cooperatives

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Page 1: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

United StatesDepartment ofAgriculture

Rural Business–CooperativeService

RBS ResearchReport 194

Black Farmers inAmerica, 1865-2000The Pursuit of IndependentFarming and the Role ofCooperatives

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Abstract Black farmers in America have had a long and arduous struggle to own land and tooperate independently. For more than a century after the Civil War, deficient civil rightsand various economic and social barriers were applied to maintaining a system wheremany blacks worked as farm operators with a limited and often total lack of opportunityto achieve ownership and operating independence. Diminished civil rights also limitedcollective action strategies, such as cooperatives and unions. Even so, various typesof cooperatives, including farmer associations, were organized in black farming com-munities prior to the 1960s. During the 1960s, the civil rights movement brought a newemphasis on cooperatives. Leaders and organizations adopted an explicit purposeand role of black cooperatives in pursuing independent farming. Increasingly, newtechnology and integrated contracting systems are diminishing independent decision-making in the management of farms. As this trend expands, more cooperatives maybe motivated, with a determination similar to those serving black farmers, to pursueproactive strategies for maintaining independent farming.


The idea of conducting this research was developed from reading an unpublishedmanuscript by a co-worker, Beverly Rotan, which was based on several case studiesof black farmer cooperatives. Her research indicated that historical background wasessential to understanding many of the current conditions for black farmers and theircooperatives. Discussions with Beverly and another co-worker, Edgar Lewis, wereindispensable in the effort to adequately understand the goals and practices of blackfarmers and cooperatives. John Zippert of the Federation of SouthernCooperatives/Land Assistance Fund provided background on some of the major devel-opments of black farmer cooperatives during the 1960s and 1970s, as well as provid-ing a substantial set of key documents. The historical component of this report relied toa large extent on three excellent books by the Smithsonian Institution scholar, PeteDaniel (see the References section). Furthermore, he reviewed an earlier version. Hissuggestions were helpful for making several improvements in this report. A secondversion was reviewed by Professor Robert Zabawa of Tuskegee University andSpencer Wood, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin. Theyoffered several excellent critical observations and suggestions.

October 2002Reprinted October 2003

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Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

Black Farmers in the South, 1865-1932 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Independent Farming Initiatives, 1886-1932 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5

New Deal Agriculture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8

The Civil Rights Movement and Cooperatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

Promoting Independent Farm Enterprise Through Cooperatives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13

Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18

References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19

Appendix Table 1- A Chronology, 1865-1965 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

Appendix Table 2- Number of farm operators and operating status, 1900-1959 . . . .23

Appendix Table 3- Farm operators in the U.S. by race, 1900-1997 . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24


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Black Farmers in America, 1865-2000The Pursuit of Independent Farming and the Role ofCooperatives

Bruce J. ReynoldsEconomistRural Business-Cooperative Service

Farming as a family-owned and independentbusiness has been an important part of the social andeconomic development of the United States. But formany black farmers it was more often than not a losingstruggle.1 The end of slavery was followed by about100 years of racial discrimination in the South that lim-ited, although it did not entirely prevent, opportunitiesfor black farmers to acquire land.

Enforcement of civil rights in the 1950s-60sremoved many overt discriminatory barriers, althoughby that time increased technology had significantlyreduced the demand for farmers in agricultural pro-duction. Nevertheless, cooperatives, while havingsome limited application in earlier decades, emergedas a significant force for black farmers during the civilrights movement. They assumed a major role in mar-keting and purchasing and in improving opportunitiesfor black farmers to retain their ownership of land.They essentially helped keep alive a traditional aspira-tion for independent farming. This report reviews thehistory of black farmers to explore the role of coopera-tives in their pursuit of independent farming.

The term "independent farmer" is often used fordifferent purposes, ranging from description of a per-sonality-type to justifications for farm policy. A gener-al definition is an individual who makes farm-operat-ing decisions that have variable risk and rewardoutcomes. For independent farming to be successful,risk/reward combinations must be competitive withwhat is offered by alternative production systems thatdiminish operating independence of farmers.

About 25 years ago, an independent farmer wasgenerally defined as having freedom to make decisionswith risk and reward consequences while functioningin an interdependent market system (Breimyer, 116-17;Lee, 40-43). While this definition is still valid, interde-pendencies in the farm economy are increasing andfarm decision-making has become more coordinatedand restricted during the last 25 years (Wolf).

Definitional boundaries of farming independenceare left to farmers and agribusiness to negotiate with-out major interference by government in determininghow risk and reward are shared. In general, public pol-icy and agricultural research are focused on how toincrease aggregate income and to provide a farm safe-ty net, but for the most part are neutral about theextent of a farmer’s entrepreneurial independence.2


1 The abolition of slavery did not end domineering systems ofcommand and control by some white planters over most blackfarm operators. The undermining of opportunity for blacks todevelop independent farming, in many cases by the use ofpeonage, existed well into the post-World War II era. (Daniel1972).

2 U.S. agricultural policy in general has adhered slightly more to aphilosophy of "consumer sovereignty" in regard to not directlypromoting the operating independence of farmers, than forexample, French agricultural policy. For a comparison betweenFrench and U.S. policies on the role of cooperatives with respect toindependent farming of grapes for wine production, see Knox. Foran institutional and policy comparison between the U.S. andFrance regarding the relative importance of consumer sovereigntyand of human factors of production, i.e., independent farmers, seeChen.

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That leaves cooperatives, with their democraticcontrol of value-added businesses, as the major institu-tional mechanism for sustaining independent farmers.However, as applied in predominantly white farmingregions of the U.S., members’ operating independenceis assumed and the primary objective of cooperativesis to maximize member earnings. By itself, indepen-dent farming traditionally has been regarded as onlyan implicit objective in these cooperatives.3

For many white farmers, independent farminghas been an economically challenging vocation, butunlike black farmers, they have not experienced socialand institutional barriers to owning and operatingfarms. For many black farmers, there is a special incen-tive to operate independently: to avoid both farmingunder the controlling systems that many whiteplanters applied in the past, and the trade credit prac-tices that led to foreclosure on land they owned(Litwack, 137).

Since the civil rights movement, cooperativeshave played an important part in helping black farm-ers to sustain or develop as independent operators. Asa public issue, the objectives have been civil rights andfighting poverty, and not independent farming. In fact,during President Lyndon Johnson’s "war on poverty,"many of today’s black farmer cooperatives got theirstart with financial assistance from the FederalGovernment. But to black farmers and communityleaders, building and sustaining operating indepen-dence is a concomitant objective and cooperatives havea major role in achieving that end.4

The experience of black farmers is directly con-nected with major events in Afro-American and gener-al U.S. history. For a quick reference on pertinent his-torical developments, see a chronology of periods andevents for 1865-1965 in Appendix Table 1. The first sec-tion of this report discusses farm-operating arrange-ments that developed during Reconstruction and thesubsequent decades of progress for some, but worsen-ing conditions for most black farmers with the rise ofthe Jim Crow era in the 1890s. The second sectionexamines development of three strategies during the

period of 1880 to 1932 for establishing independentfarmers: cooperatives, farm settlement projects, andfarming self-sufficiency. The third section describes theimpact and legacy of the New Deal period, 1933-41, onthe prospects for black farmers. The fourth sectionexamines the influence of the civil rights movement onthe rise of black farmer cooperatives during the 1950-60s and the role of the Federation of SouthernCooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF). Thelast section discusses some of the challenges in usingcooperatives to sustain independent black farmers,and how they are being met in rural black communi-ties to accomplish value-added initiatives.

Black Farmers in the South, 1865-1932

Abolitionists worked to end slavery for severaldecades before the Civil War, but most were uncon-cerned about how former slaves would transition tofreedom in a capitalist society (Pease, 19 and 162).When victory by the North was imminent, this issuewas immediately in the forefront. Its resolutionrequired answering a basic question: to what extentshould government provide for a transition to "free"labor rather than support the desire of many freedmento be independent farmers?

There were isolated opportunities for formerslaves to acquire land. As early as 1862, Union gener-als subdivided some plantations of Confederate lead-ers for small farm settlements by former slaves. Thegovernment sold confiscated land on St. Helena Islandand Port Royal, SC, in 1863 to a philanthropist-entre-preneur who produced cotton by hiring freedmen andarranged mortgage payment plans for those farmers togradually purchase the land (Pease, 139-41).

The first Freedmen’s Bureau Act in 1865 includedplans for 40-acre tracts to be sold on easy terms fromeither abandoned plantations or to be developed onunsettled lands. But by late 1865, President AndrewJohnson terminated further initiatives by the UnionArmy for small farm settlements. In 1866, a second


3 Joseph Knapp’s two-volume history of American agriculturalcooperatives, the most comprehensive to-date, describes howfarmers formed associations to improve their income. He attacheda different meaning to the term "independent farming" from theway it is defined in this report. He viewed the late 19th centurycommercialization of agriculture as eliminating farmerindependence. In his view, the decline of independent farmingcreated the need for cooperatives (Knapp 1969, 46). The statedpurposes of most cooperatives are synonymous with sustainingthe independence of farmers, but in following Knapp’s conception,they are rarely ever described in such terms.

4 Even black political and government leaders emphasize economicdevelopment and not operating independence. This emphasis,which misses the desire of many black farmers, is described byJerry Pennick in the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/LandAssistance Fund 25th Anniversary Report of 1992: "Of all the blackleaders, both locally and nationally, how many have provided uswith a real and viable plan for economic independence? Invariablythey say that in order for us to achieve economic independence,we must have jobs. By jobs, they mean working for the establishedemployment producing industries, which are over 95 percentwhite owned and controlled."

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Freedmen’s Bureau Act was passed that lacked specificterms and actions for implementing 40-acre settle-ments (Shannon, 84).

Social scientists and economic historians haveconsidered the government’s reluctance to implementa major land settlement program for the freedmen as alost opportunity for independent farming (Marshall57; Higgs, 78-79). The extent to which land reformwould have required seizure and breakup of planta-tions may have worked against adoption of such a pol-icy. There were opportunities to provide small farmson government-owned or unsettled lands. But a relat-ed issue was what to do with large plantations andhow they would be farmed? By leaving the plantationsintact, a demand for farm-operating labor was created.

Despite early announcements of plans for landsettlement programs, the work of the Freedmen’sBureau focused instead on facilitating a transition fromslave to various types of farm operation or labor rela-tionships. During a 4-year period, the Bureau mediat-ed agricultural production contract negotiationsbetween planters and freedmen (Woodman 1984, 534-35). In other words, national leaders decided that itsappropriate role was to help former slaves become"free" in being able to offer labor and farm operatingservices, while independent farming was left to indi-viduals to pursue.5 The demise of land distributionplans did not eliminate opportunities for ownershipand independent farming, but its future depended onthe extent of economic mobility, or what was calledmoving up the agricultural ladder. The Freedmen’sBureau sought to establish potential for mobility byrequiring fairness in the terms negotiated for farm pro-duction.

The freedmen eschewed operating as wage-work-ers out of concern that planters would establish a"free" labor variant of the factories-in-the-field systemof slavery. They also wanted more connection to theland with responsibility for raising crops such as cot-ton on individually designated tracts. Furthermore, thefreedmen wanted separate family residences, in con-trast to the centralized living quarters under slavery(Ochiltree 357, 377). Each tenant or sharecropper fami-ly had its own cabin and designated section of land.

The two general alternatives to wage labor weretenancy arrangements under rental contracts andsharecropping. The tenant contracts were often not afixed-rent type, but a specific share of either the har-

vest or of sales. In contrast to sharecroppers, tenantssupplied more farm production inputs in addition totheir labor. The distinction had originally meant thattenants paid landowners for use of the land, includingdebt payments, while sharecroppers received theirshare, less debt payments, from landowners. Severalsouthern states passed laws during the late 19th centu-ry that established the status of payment terms andworking relationships as subject to determination byprivate negotiations between the landowner and ten-ant worker, which resulted in negligible differencesbetween tenant and sharecropper (Edwards). Hence,the alternative forms of contracting that are reportedin the Census of Agriculture for the South were inmany cases of actual practice equivalent to sharecrop-ping in providing slight incentives to increase effortsfor more productivity and earnings, as observed inlater studies (Woofter, 10-11).

The Freedmen’s Bureau was not in a position touniformly establish fairness in farm contracting. Itstermination by 1869 may have been premature, but itdid help establish terms under which some plantersand black farm operators would develop effectiveworking relationships. The Bureau, in concert with pri-vate organizations, also helped establish schools thatremained in operation throughout the Reconstructionperiod (Vaughn, 9-23).

The presence of Federal troops also facilitated theexercise of new freedoms by former slaves, especiallythe establishment of their own churches. The churchesbecame a focal point of community development.Some even assumed coordinating roles in educationand commerce.

Newspaper stories from Alabama in the 1870sdescribe corn production and price agreement strate-gies used by black farmers to withstand pressures tosell cheaply. This coordination was accomplishedthrough the informal channels of church membership.In fact, the value of church membership created suffi-cient incentive and social cohesion to prevent free-rid-ing behavior from unraveling group commitments.These assertions of coordinated market power by blackfarmers in the Reconstruction years, however, fueledresentment among some elements of white society(Curtin, 26 and 34).

The withdrawal of all Federal troops in 1877 sig-naled a turn for the worse in making progress for inde-pendent farming. The availability and quality of publicand private schools declined. In many rural areas,there was no access to high school education for blackchildren (Litwack, 56-113). Concurrently, institutionsand arrangements for agricultural production in the


5 As noted in footnote 2, independent farming has seldom been adirect concern of policy in U.S. history.

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South evolved further away from incentive-based rela-tionships to increasingly rely on more command andcontrol over farm laborers (Ochiltree, 367-68; Curtin,35).

The extent of progress of black independentfarming does not admit easy generalizations for theperiod of 1880-1920. Census data and other evidence ismixed between progress in land ownership for someand economic stagnation for most black farmers.

W.E.B. Du Bois estimated 19th century progressin land ownership by black farmers: 3 million acres in1875, 8 million in 1890, and 12 million in 1900(Aptheker, 105). The Census of Agriculture shows asteady increase in the number of farm operators own-ing land in the South from 1880 to 1890 and again in1900, but does not distinguish between white and non-white owners until 1900. Census figures show 1920 asthe peak year in the number of nonwhite owners offarmland in the South (Appendix Table 2). In terms ofacreage owned, the census shows 1910 as the peakyear for the South. More than 12.8 million acres werefully and partly owned, respectively, by 175,290 and43,177 nonwhite farmers.6

Increases in land ownership after 1900 were part-ly due to a significant rise in cotton prices that lasteduntil the outbreak of World War I in 1914. The growthin farmland acquisition by blacks during the late 19thand early 20th centuries demonstrates a period of eco-nomic mobility for about 25 percent of farm operators(Appendix Table 2). In the early 20th century, therewere instances of black farmers having achieved thestatus of landlords and becoming philanthropic com-munity leaders (Grim, 412-14).

During the 19th century there were some oppor-tunities to establish farms on unsettled lands, but overthe long run, most black farmers gained land throughtheir working relationships with white planters(Higgs, 69, 130-31). Landowners profited by offeringtenant farm operators the incentive of having anopportunity to buy certain tracts of land in exchangefor increased farming efficiency. Much of the landblack farmers own today is adjacent or relatively nearto farms owned by whites.

The increased land ownership and prosperity ofthe first two decades of the 20th century, however,were not shared by a large majority of black farm oper-ators. Enactment of Jim Crow laws in the late 1890sempowered landlords and planters to try to extractmore output from tenants and sharecroppers with lesscompensation, rather than using incentives for self-motivated work (Ochiltree, 367; Litwack, 127-29;Alston, 267). Oppressive farm operating contracts wereeasier to impose because the voting rights of blackswere limited. Without the franchise, black tenants andsharecroppers had no legal or political recourse. Theselaws also facilitated tacit coordination by white land-lords in applying stricter terms in agricultural con-tracts.

The purchase of farm and household supplieswas financed by loans secured with crop liens frommerchants, which put many farm operators into a per-sistent state of debt (Litwack, 136). In some southernstates, a peonage system developed from laws onindebtedness that enabled planters to force some ten-ants to remain as operators on their plantations(Daniel 1972, 20). Cotton grown by tenants and share-croppers was usually sold for them or credited to theirfurnishing accounts. So, even when these growersavoided peonage, they likely received lower returnsbecause they lacked the power to monitor marketingtransactions (Woodman 1982, 228; Litwack, 133).

The misery brought on by cotton crop liens wasnot limited to blacks. During the antebellum period,many southern whites had been small subsistencefarmers who did not grow cotton. They shifted to cot-ton after the war, but many lost their farms because ofdependence on crop liens (Woofter, xxi; Woodman1982, 229). Increasingly, landless whites became a largepart of the tenant and sharecropper workforce(Appendix Table 2).

Census reports from 1900 to 1920 show anincreasing number of black tenant and sharecropperfamilies in the South. By 1920, there were 369,842 ten-ants and 333,713 sharecroppers. Natural disasters andagricultural price declines during the 1920s createdmuch economic distress. By the 1925 census, share-croppers had become more numerous in the Souththan rental tenants. By 1930, the number of southernblack sharecroppers peaked at 392,897. Between the1920 and 1930 censuses, the number of white share-croppers also increased; many of them may have fallenfrom the ladder rungs of tenants and owner-operators(Appendix Table 2).

While not all individuals succeed in farming inany setting, the repressiveness of Jim Crow society sti-


6 The census only reported sharecroppers for classifications of whiteand nonwhite farm operators. However, by confining the data tosouthern states during this period, the count in the nonwhitecategory is either identical or only slightly larger than the actualenumeration of black farm operators. Although Texas andOklahoma were included as southern states in these censusreports, their sizable populations of Mexican-Americans wereincluded in the white category.

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fled market incentives that enable economic mobility.Economist Robert Higgs observed that many planterswere willing to trade off some potential earnings inreturn for the social solidarity achieved by pursuingwhite supremacist values (130). Many planters mayhave also believed that it was advantageous to main-tain a supply of low-paid farm workers by limitingeconomic mobility for sharecroppers.7

The erosion of opportunities for decision respon-sibility and for education worked against black farm-ers’ pursuit of independent farming. USDA studiesduring the 1930s revealed that the production contract-ing and furnishing system of previous decades createddependency and ignorance about economic alterna-tives (Woofter 142-43; Daniel 1985, 85-87). Butalthough opportunities and capabilities for operatingindependence were systematically undermined, thedesire of tenants and sharecroppers to achieve the lifeof an independent farmer was not extinguished.

Independent Farming

Initiatives, 1886-1932

Between 1886 and 1932, there were several typesof initiatives to promote more independent farming byblack tenants and sharecroppers. The most famous anddurable achievements were in agricultural education.The Second Morrill Act of 1890 established state agri-cultural colleges for black students. Booker T.Washington (1856-1915) emerged as a leading publicfigure in promoting education and farm improvement.But three other initiatives of this period applied direct-ly to development of independent farming: (1) organi-zation of cooperatives for farmers and other communi-ty services, (2) projects for land purchase and resale tosmall farmers, and (3) farm diversification and self-

sufficiency. The first two directions proved to beunsustainable, but they reemerged in later years as keystrategies for supporting the independence of blackfarmers. The third initiative helped many farmersavoid the continuous indebtedness and peonage thatoften resulted from cotton sharecropping and crop lienfinance.

The Farmers Alliance of the 1880s and early 1890swas a significant cooperative organizational move-ment. The Alliance spread throughout the Plains statesand the South by regionally organizing into northernand southern branches. Alliance cooperatives wereestablished in many communities. The movement alsoattempted a centralized cooperative marketingapproach that had not existed with the earlier Grangecooperatives. Opposition to the crop lien system was aprimary motivation for the Farmers’ Alliance, and itsleadership developed several innovative financial andcooperative strategies (Knapp 1969, 57-67).

A faction within the Alliance tried to build acooperative society without segregation and racism,but Alliance leaders were conflicted on the issue ofparticipation by black farmers. Black participation wasaccomplished by establishing an organizationally seg-regated branch of the movement, the Colored Farmers’National Alliance and Cooperative Union (CFNACU)in 1886 (Goodwyn, 278-85). A history of the associationclaims that the CFNACU cooperative exchanges thatoperated in several southern cities provided suppliesand loans to help members pay land mortgages.8 Butthe resources, size, and operations of these coopera-tives have not been documented.


7 B. T. Washington, who preached that hard work would berewarded, observed how this was not always valid in practice. Inan article in the Country Gentleman magazine, he tried to pointout to planters the advantages from using incentives for gainingmore efficiency: "In one case I happen to remember a family thathad three or four strong persons at work every day that wasallowed to rent only about ten acres of land. When I asked theowner of the plantation why he did not let this family have moreland he replied that the soil was so productive that if he allowedthem to rent more they would soon be making such a profit thatthey would be able to buy land of their own and he would losethem as renters. This is one way to make the Negro inefficient as alaborer—attempting to discourage him instead of encouraginghim." (BTW, V12, 392).

8 The general superintendent of CFNACU was a white Baptistminister, R.M. Humphrey, who had also served in the ConfederateArmy. An historian, who is currently researching the CFNACU,has studied the Alliance publications and a history written byHumphrey (Ali).

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The Alliance also tried to build organizationalbridges between farmers and laborers, with the latterbeing represented by the Knights of Labor. TheAlliance was renamed the Farmers and LaborersUnion of America in 1890. Steps toward amalgamationended as farmer participation declined and attentionturned toward political actions in the formation of thePopulist Party. Ultimately, as one historian has pointedout, unions were more relevant for sharecroppers thancooperatives (Woodman 1982, 229-30). Nevertheless,sharecropper and tenant unions can be regarded as astage in the pursuit of independent farming and, likecooperatives, are forms of democratically governedcollective action.

CFNACU ordered a general cotton harvest strikein 1891, although several of its local suballiancesopposed it. Black sharecroppers struck in a region ofArkansas, and violent altercations ensued. This formof activism increased divisiveness between CFNACUand the Southern Alliance, which included someplanters who operated with sharecropping (Goodwyn,292-94). The Alliance movement began to furtherunravel when it effectively amalgamated with thePopulist Party. It dissolved after losses in the electionsof 1892 and 1896. But the Knights of Labor continuedto recruit sharecroppers and accomplished substantialinterracial organization (McMath, 126). Their workmay have influenced the specific unions of tenantfarmers that organized in the early 20th century.

In summary, the Alliance introduced the idea ofcooperatives to some black farmers in the South, andmay have contributed experience that was applied toother types of associations in rural communities.

However, the Alliance’s political activism may alsohave influenced many southern whites to move in thedirection of segregation and disenfranchisement withthe passage of Jim Crow laws in several statesthroughout the 1890s (Goodwyn, 304-06).

A movement for black cooperatives, separatefrom the Alliance, developed in East Texas. RobertLloyd Smith (1861-1942), a local school principal andcommunity leader, initiated it. His first step in thedirection of cooperatives was to establish a branch ofthe Village Improvement Societies, a movement fromthe northeastern United States. This movement wasdedicated to home and community improvementefforts, but as Smith learned about the perpetual cycleof debt caused by crop liens, he reorganized it as theFarmers’ Improvement Society of Texas (FIST) in 1890(Zabawa, 463-64).

FIST helped farm families develop more self-suf-ficiency and strategies for operating on a cash basis. Itestablished local purchasing cooperatives that, whileseparate from the Alliance, may have been influencedby that movement’s promotion of cooperatives. Smithwas politically competitive with the Alliance supportof the Populist Party, which he defeated in the 1894and 1896 elections to the Texas House ofRepresentatives by running on the Republican ticket.

FIST was a successful regional cooperative forseveral years. Its membership grew from 1,800 in 1898to 2,340 members by 1900, with 86 branches in Texas,Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Its members owned 46,000acres of farmland. FIST was also adaptive in its strate-gy. While many members needed to operate on a cashbasis, others had credit needs for acquiring land ordeveloping their farms. To meet the needs of suchmembers, it established the Farmers’ ImprovementBank in Waco, TX, in 1906. Even though it servedmany low-resource farmers, FIST’s annual supply pur-chasing volume was estimated at $50,000 in 1909.Other projects and services included agricultural edu-cation and facilities for applying best practices in pro-ducing eggs, poultry, and swine (Texas State HA).

The success of FIST was partly due to achievingcritical mass by meeting a range of member needs.Smith coupled the agricultural side of cooperationwith the Village Societies’ home and communityimprovement work. The letterhead on FIST stationerystated its purpose: "What We Are Fighting For: TheAbolition of the Credit System. Better Methods ofFarming. Cooperation. Proper Care of the Sick andDead. Improvement and Beautifying of our Homes"


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(Washington, henceforth, BTW, V.5, 4). In other words,its activities covered services from better living to dig-nity in death.

In the early 20th century, many associations wereorganized by black church leaders and provided arange of community services for education, healthbenefits, funerals, and credit services for buying landand establishing homes. They often had religiousnames, such as "Good Samaritans" or the "Order ofMoses." They operated with member dues and controlas in mutual insurance associations or shared-servicecooperatives (Ellison, 9-15).

Prior to the Depression, the largest type of self-help association in terms of membership and financialassets was often cooperatives for providing funeraland burial services for predominantly black rural andsome urban residents. Members paid monthly assess-ments and accumulated benefit certificates over time.Many of these cooperatives were federated into orga-nizations that covered fairly large geographic areas.One of them had members in seven states. Some hadaccumulated several million dollars in assets by 1931(Ellison, 13).

The growth and formal structure of the funeralcooperatives did not carry over to farmer coopera-tives. Outside the Alliance experience and FIST, farmercooperatives were mostly of an informal and ad hocvariety. Their informality reflected the limited com-mercial opportunities and unequal market accessavailable to black farmers during the first half of the20th century. A formal and countervailing-power typeof marketing cooperative of black farmers was not tol-erated in the pre-civil rights era. Vocational agricultureteachers and county agents often provided leadershipand management of informal cooperatives (Pitts, 21).Their purposes were limited to making seasonal bulkpurchases of farm supplies, organizing street markets,or handling occasional surpluses that farmers couldnot sell or consume on their own.

The most direct strategies for the pursuit of inde-pendent farming in the early 20th century were pro-jects for coordinated land purchase and contiguoussettlements of small farmers.

By the late 19th century, a few prosperous blackcommunities emerged in the South and in other partsof America (Grim). Booker T. Washington studied andwrote about some of the most successful rural commu-nities, pointing to them as examples of economicuplift. Mound Bayou, MS, founded in 1887, becamefamous for establishing black-owned businesses andindependent farms, and governance entirely by itsblack residents (BTW, V9, 307-20).

B. T. Washington promoted land purchasing pro-grams that influenced future rural development strate-gists. He was a major public figure and widelyrespected by political and business leaders such asPresident Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie.He used his many connections to raise startup capitalfor several settlement projects. His first project focusedon improvement for tenant housing. In the 1890s, theTuskegee Institute received a grant from a Boston phil-anthropist to establish a revolving loan fund for homeimprovements. This grant contributed to tenant well-being, but the program always required new fundingbecause the economics of most tenant production con-tracts did not generate sufficient earnings to capitalizethe program (Harlan, 213).

In future projects, Washington sought a kind ofhybrid plan for satisfying investor interests with a tar-get rate of return and philanthropic interests by help-ing black farmers establish independent farm enter-prises. In the late 1890s, he and supporters debatedvarious alternatives for financing and managing a pro-ject for land acquisition by small black farmers. Theexperience of FIST in applying cooperative organiza-tion prompted consideration of the idea of organizinga "co-operative land association" with stock subscrip-tions and application of a cooperative system for pro-duction (Zabawa, 465-69). Yet, when this project wasimplemented in 1901 as the Southern ImprovementCompany (SIC), the cooperative dimension was leftout. Nevertheless, SIC intended to be a practical wayfor black farmers to obtain ownership of land.

SIC was capitalized by a group of northern phil-anthropist entrepreneurs and managed by a Tuskegeegraduate. A 4,000-acre tract of land was purchasedand subdivided. The business plan included housingand small-acreage farms for purchase with relativelylow mortgage interest rates. Project revenue was gen-erated primarily by cotton and cottonseed sales thatwere exclusively handled by agents for SIC(Anderson, 114). Historical research on SIC offers con-flicting views about its success.9 The project workedwell when cotton prices were high, but after condi-tions worsened, individual farm holdings foreclosedby 1919 (Zabawa, 467).


9 See Harlan; Zabawa and Warren for an appraisal of the SIC’spositive impact, while Anderson, who used different archivalsources, argues that it became exploitative of the farmers.Washington wrote in glowing words about the accomplishmentsof the SIC in a magazine article in 1911, but died before farmearnings plummeted and undermined the project (BTW, V10, 605-06).

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Washington initiated another land project in 1914that was earmarked for Tuskegee graduates wholacked family farm ownership. An 1,800-acre tract waspurchased by a group of investors, led by a Tuskegeetrustee. The Tuskegee Farm and ImprovementCompany, also called Baldwin Farms, basically fol-lowed the same operating procedures as SIC (BTW,309-10). Unfortunately this project was started as thecotton market entered a period of low prices and bollweevil problems. A community of independent blackfarmers sustained operations until 1949 (Zabawa, 467-69).

The most successful strategy for independentfarming in the early 20th century was crop diversifica-tion to build self-sufficiency. Washington regarded thisas a way for black farmers to avoid the problems ofdependence on cotton and indebtedness from cropliens. He influenced the development of the blackextension agent system and the content of what waspromoted to farmers. Much of this influence was car-ried forward by Thomas M. Campbell, a student andassistant to Washington at Tuskegee. Campbell wasthe first farm extension agent to be appointed byUSDA, and over his career from 1906-53 he was thepredominant leader of the black extension agent ser-vice (Jones).

In addition to crop diversification, informationon preserving farm-grown foods was disseminated byagents as a way to develop self-sufficiency and insula-tion from white commercial society. Black extensionagents initially focused their efforts on farmers whoowned enough land for independent operating, butdepending on the receptiveness of planters, theyincreasingly promoted gardening by sharecroppers(Zellar, 432- 438).

Washington knew about cooperatives but did notembrace them as an appropriate strategy for blackfarmers, at least under the prevailing economic condi-tions and political power structure. Extension agentscoordinated occasional group purchasing or joint-sell-ing efforts but did not systematically disseminateknowledge for formal cooperative development.

During the years of the New Deal, Campbellseized the opportunity to establish a cooperative at theTuskegee Institute to serve as a model of this methodof self-help (Jones, 53). Prior to the 1960s and apartfrom a few New Deal programs, the FederalGovernment offered negligible assistance and encour-agement of cooperatives for black farmers.

Of the three directions for developing indepen-dent farming, self-sufficiency with crop diversificationhad a more immediate and lasting impact at the time

than cooperatives or coordinated land purchase initia-tives. Increased self-sufficiency would help to reducedependency on cotton, but with the exception oftobacco-growing regions, there were insufficient alter-natives for involvement in and experience with a morecommercial type of farming. In any case, crop diversi-fication away from cotton was gradual and not uni-formly adopted. As late as 1964, the Census ofAgriculture reported that about half of the blackfarmer population produced cotton.

The period of the 1920s and 1930s was a water-shed for many tenant farmers and sharecroppers. Acombination of steadily increasing mechanization andeconomic depression forced a major reduction in thedemand for farm labor in the South (Appendix Table2). Natural disasters in the late 1920s and major com-modity price declines increased the role of govern-ment in the farm economy. In 1929, the Federal FarmBoard was established to sanction and direct marketintervention by farmer membership associations, pri-marily nationwide or regional cooperatives.

The onset of the Depression in 1933 triggered anexpansion of the interventionist role of government inagriculture through the administering of commoditypayment subsidies directly to individual farmers.USDA policies abated a market process of landturnover to would-be independent farmers by restrict-ing the entry of new producers and reducing incen-tives for many landowners to quit farming. In retro-spect, the apolitical approach advocated by Booker T.Washington was to prove especially disadvantageousto black farm operators with the increased politiciza-tion of agriculture that the New Deal inaugurated.10

New Deal Agriculture

The New Deal was for the most part a bad dealfor black farmers. Under the Agricultural AdjustmentAct (AAA) of 1933, cotton was supported by restrict-ing acreage and guaranteeing minimum prices. Theimmediate impact of reduced cotton acreage was dis-placement for many black and white tenants andsharecroppers. There were also cases of landlords who


10 Washington tolerated a temporary acceptance ofdisfranchisement that he believed would change in step witheconomic progress of blacks (Harlan, viii ; Lutwack, 146-47).Though tolerating disfranchisement and segregation, he took abehind-the-scenes activist role in fighting debt peonage becauseof its direct interference with economic opportunity (Daniel 1972,67).

Page 12: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

did not distribute the share of payments that belongedto their tenants or sharecroppers (Woofter, 67; Fite,141-2; Daniel 1985, 101-4). The New Deal also markeda significant increase of government services, forwhich distribution was controlled by politically con-nected groups in rural communities. For much of theSouth, this system resulted in diminished access to ser-vices for many blacks which, as alleged in recent law-suits against USDA, persisted into recent years(Pigford).

Another unintended consequence of the AAAwas to raise entry barriers to farm ownership.Numerous studies estimate that commodity price sup-ports raise the price of farmland by as much as 15 to 20percent as a national average (Floyd; Ryan). The com-modity programs are tied to specific lands, which capi-talizes the future value of the programs into the valueof the land.

Although farmland prices were depressed duringthe 1930s, ownership was often not feasible for those,like many blacks, who had diminished access to AAAprograms. Incentives for land purchases and expan-sions of farm acreage were increased for those withaccess to AAA programs. Census figures show thatbetween 1930 and 1935, white farm owners and tenantoperators increased farmland acres in the South by 12percent, or more than 35 million acres. But farmlandacreage owned by nonwhite farmers declined by morethan 2.2 million acres, from 37.8 million to 35.6 million,during the same period. White farmers with full own-ership in the South increased by 13 percent or 139,646between 1930 and 1935, and white part-ownersincreased by 8 percent or 15,299. Nonwhite full-ownersof farmland increased by 6 percent or 9,617 between1930 and 1935, but part-owners decreased by 13 per-cent or 5,571. During the same 5-year span, white ten-ants increased by 145,763, while nonwhite tenantsdecreased by 45,049. These divergent changes mayhave reflected differences in access to subsidies(Appendix Table 2).

The increased entry by whites into farmingappears to have been at least partly policy inducedbecause it occurred during a period of acreage reduc-tion for cotton and low commodity prices. The gains inland values from commodity price supports accruedonce it became evident that these programs would per-sist. For those who added to their land holdings dur-ing the Depression, the benefits were gained onceacreage restrictions for cotton and other program cropswere eased or lifted. Future inducements to expandfarming acreage would especially jeopardize much ofthe land owned by black farmers that was adjacent or

near white farms. The AAA programs and continuedsupporting of prices in farm policy raised barriers toland ownership for black farmers and limited theiropportunities to either stay in farming or achieve thestatus of operating as independent farmers. Yet, farmpolicy is only one of several institutional factors thathave worked against ownership of land by black farm-ers, and these have been examined in various studiesand investigations (see Gilbert; and Associated Press).

New Deal policymakers did not neglect displacedtenants and croppers. Subsistence relief and resettle-ment programs were offered for these farm operatorsand their families during the mid-1930s. Such pro-grams functioned more as a holding action for theunemployed than in addressing the economics ofexcess labor supply in southern farming. But during1935-41, the programs of the Resettlement Admin-istration, followed by the Farm SecurityAdministration (FSA), were a substantial governmenteffort to help tenants become independent farmers andto use cooperatives (Knapp 1973, 299-316; Baldwin,193-211). Lending programs were established to enabletenants to purchase farmland and machinery. By ana-lyzing creditworthiness, these programs tried to targetthose with the most capability to farm efficiently.

Displaced tenants and sharecroppers, who wereselected for participation in some of the resettlementprograms, were in effect offered an opportunity todevelop as independent farmers. In many cases newlysettled farms were in contiguous areas. Such commu-nities provided a basis for establishing cooperatives,which FSA actively promoted and operated. Thesecooperatives included both traditional farm supplypurchasing and marketing, but also a range of sharedservices. The latter included associations for joint own-ership of farm machinery and breeding stock


Page 13: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

(Baldwin, 203). These initiatives represented an aware-ness of the needs of new entrants to farming, of oppor-tunities for farm ownership, and of the potential roleof cooperatives in rural development, which had beenput aside during the initial years of launching theAAA programs.

Many tenants lacked sufficient farming assets,equipment, and skills to qualify for land purchaseloans, a problem that the FSA sought to address byimplementing two types of cooperatives — farm pro-duction and land-lease. The former projects failed dueto insufficient property rights incentives (Knapp 1973,316). But land-lease cooperatives used a more individ-ual-based incentive system. These cooperativesreceived loans for leasing entire plantations that weresubdivided into family farms for subleasing to mem-bers. They also operated the plantation cotton gin andother facilities on a cooperative basis, in addition tofarm supply purchasing. By 1940, there were 31 land-lease cooperatives, with 949 black and 750 white farmfamilies (Knapp 1973, 313).

An alternative program involved lending for theacquisition of large tracts of land and subdividingthem into individually owned family farms. It fol-lowed a plan similar to the projects promoted byWashington 30 years earlier, but this time with govern-ment support. FSA implemented 10 or more black set-tlements that were designed for family farm owner-ship. The Tuskegee Institute assisted the Prairie Farmsin Macon County, AL, in developing a communityinfrastructure. The Prairie Farms community includeda cooperative for purchasing and machinery sharingand a K-12th grade school (Zabawa, 480-3). PrairieFarms shut down in the 1950s.

FSA programs for farm ownership and coopera-tive development were phased out after 1941 althoughshared services, particularly farm machinery sharingcooperatives, were actively supported during WorldWar II (Sharing). In fact, 32 farm machinery coopera-tives were reported to be active in black communitiesof North Carolina throughout the 1940s (Pitts, 35).These programs likely contributed to the increase infarm ownership in the South between 1940 and 1945(Appendix Table 2). Knapp’s general assessment of theFSA initiative toward cooperatives was that the gov-ernment was too directly involved and idealism oftencrowded out the practical experience needed for long-term sustainability (Knapp 1973, 316).

Some of the cooperatives organized by these pro-grams lasted for several years after 1941. A 1946 sur-vey showed that only 16 percent of the 25,543 coopera-tives organized under FSA programs had gone out of

business (Baldwin, 203). Many closed during 1950-59,the 10-year span with the largest rural exodus in theNation’s history (Appendix Table 3). This period wasalso the turning point from increasing to decreasingnumbers of cooperatives in the United States (Mather).Yet the Mileston Farmers Cooperative that was estab-lished in Tchula, MS, by the FSA programs continuesto serve its members today.

The establishment of cooperatives through gov-ernment initiative in FSA programs contributed toknowledge about how individuals can work togetherin organizing agricultural purchasing and marketing.The FSA programs also applied the ideas for landacquisition and community planning that Washingtonhad promoted. The elapse of these programs in 1941and the post-war exodus from farming (AppendixTable 3) ended a phase of cooperative development,but made room for more enduring and grass rootsapproaches in the future.

The Civil Rights Movement

and Cooperatives

The civil rights movement emboldened manyblack farmers to join cooperatives. It may have alsoprovoked more discrimination by white-owned busi-nesses against black farmers in commercial dealings.But, discrimination in some cases induced cooperativeformation. In a time of interracial tensions, bulk pur-chasing of farm supplies or assembling member prod-ucts for consolidated transactions enabled black farm-ers to minimize the frequency of their individualinteractions with white merchants and product bro-kers. Cases of this mechanism are documented, wherefarmers’ access to supplies or markets were blockedwhen they were known to be members of the NationalAssociation for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP).

In 1956, black farmers in Clarendon County, NC,organized the Clarendon County ImprovementAssociation to circumvent discrimination due to theirNAACP membership. It provided small loans, farmsupplies, and services. When area gins would notaccept cotton from black farmers, the cooperativetransported it to distant facilities for ginning (Daniel2000, 247). Circumventing discrimination was also thepurpose of forming the Grand Marie VegetableProducers Cooperative, Inc., in Louisiana in 1965, afterbrokers boycotted some growers for their civil rightsactivities (Marshall, 51).


Page 14: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

While cooperatives helped reduce members’exposure to potential racial discrimination in commer-cial dealings, the formation of associations elicitedantagonism and reprisals from racist business owners.The Clarendon association lost access to credit fromlocal banks, but it was able to borrow from theNAACP and also received funds from the UnitedAutomobile Workers for purchasing farm machinery(Daniel 2000, 247). One of the largest and most widelypublicized black cooperatives to emerge in the late1960s was South West Alabama Farmers CooperativeAssociation (SWAFCA). It encountered numerous boy-cotts from local businesses and discriminatory actionsfrom politicians.11

The civil rights movement had a direct influenceon cooperative formation by introducing the criticalelement of leadership. Black farmers were receptive to

cooperatives, but getting organized was often difficultbecause many potential members lacked the trainingand resources. As in the past, county or universityextension agents provided the initiative and leadershipfor informal or ad hoc cooperation, but many civilrights leaders wanted to help develop cooperatives ofa formal and more visible type.

Many initiators of cooperative development werereligious leaders, continuing a tradition of churchestaking an active role in community building. Forexample, the Rev. Francis X. Walter founded theFreedom Quilting Bee cooperative in Alabama in theearly 1960s. Father A. J. McKnight organized theSouthern Consumers Cooperative (SCC) and severalcredit unions during the 1960s-1970s (Marshall, 37-40).

Father McKnight also contributed significantinstitutional development for black cooperatives with

the founding of the Southern Consumers EducationFoundation (SCEF) in 1961. His work drew attentionand support from the Cooperative League of the USA(CLUSA), the Credit Union National Association(CUNA), and other national organizations.12 Alongwith some foundations, they helped establish theSouthern Cooperative Development Program (SCDP)in 1967. It offered cooperative education and technicalassistance to cooperatives and credit unions locatedprimarily in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.After two years in operation, SCDP realized a need tofocus assistance on a group of 25 associations, ratherthan spreading its resources on new cooperative devel-opment (Marshall, 42).

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC)was also founded in 1967, organized by representa-tives from 22 cooperatives across the South (Federation

1992, 7-9). Its director was Charles Prejean, who, likeFather McKnight, was involved with improving adultliteracy and realized the importance of concrete inter-ests and tasks such as cooperative participation inhelping people develop their economy (Bethell, 4). FSChad common purposes with SCDP but was moreencompassing in its plan of action. For a brief periodin the early 1970s, SCDP combined with the FSC as a


11 SWAFCA had been approved for an Office of EconomicOpportunity (OEO) grant, but in June 1967 Alabama GovernorLurleen Wallace vetoed it. Sargent Schriver, the director of theOEO, overrode the veto (Marshall 48; Bethell, 6).

12 Father McKnight was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Famein 1987.

Table 1 —Federation of Southern Cooperatives membership, 1969

Agricultural Credit Unions Consumer Othera Total

States co-ops members co-ops members co-ops members co-ops members co-ops members

AL 2 1,825 6 2,784 3 230 3 2,789 14 7,398MS 5 1,875 1 500 3 1,080 8 1,482 17 4,937LA 3 290 4 1,833 -- -- 1 2,050 8 4,183Otherb 14 1,992 5 801 9 1,720 13 578 41 5,091Total 24 5,982 16 5,918 15 3,030 25 4,303 80 --

a Other cooperatives include handicraft, small industry, and fishing.b Other states are Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West


Page 15: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

lending unit for cooperatives. It was renamed theSouthern Cooperative Development Fund (SCDF) buthas operated separately since the mid-1970s.

FSC encompassed a comprehensive range of ser-vices for rural community development, includinghelp for farmers to secure their ownership of land andoperating independence. The scope of FSC programsfor training, consulting, and research, as well as capitalfor land and business project development, hasrequired financial assistance, including grants fromgovernment and private foundations.

Founded by 22 cooperatives, FSC had 80 mem-bers after only two years. By the mid-1970s, it had 130cooperative members (Voorhis, 212). Table 1 is a con-densed version of FSC membership data in 1969 aspublished in a study by Marshall and Godwin. Thetotal membership is not reported because some mem-bers belonged to more than one cooperative. The FSCdraws from 14 states, but over time Alabama andMississippi have consistently accounted for much ofits membership.

The challenges in promoting cooperatives forblack farmers were demonstrated by the experience ofSWAFCA. It was the largest cooperative in FSC’s ini-tial membership. It was established in 1967 with 1,800farm families. SWAFCA epitomized the spirit of thecivil rights movement in asserting freedom from dis-crimination and pursuit of economic uplift for poorfamilies. Its initial membership grew out of discus-sions among black cotton farmers who wanted todiversify into vegetable crops but needed a marketingoutlet. A large-scale membership campaign wasincluded in voter registration drives and in the Selma-to-Montgomery "March for Freedom" in 1965 (seeAppendix Table 1). Civil rights workers and organiza-tions such as the National Sharecroppers Fund andCLUSA participated in its formation (Marshall, 46).

SWAFCA achieved some marketing successes,despite harassment from some white politicians andbusiness leaders. Although members were predomi-nantly black, SWAFCA’s vegetable marketing pro-grams attracted membership from some white farmers(Voorhis, 96). Nevertheless, it encountered problems inestablishing durable cooperative programs. Marshalland Godwin observed that its management was not upto serving such a relatively large membership. Theynoted, "… members had very limited understanding ofcooperative principles" (Marshall, 47-9). FSC workeddiligently to bolster management and cooperative edu-cation deficiencies, but market access problems andsustaining the involvement of SWAFCA’s large mem-bership continually weakened the organization.

During the mid-1970s, SWAFCA attempted toshift its focus from marketing vegetables to producinggasohol. The late Albert Turner, who was a civil rightsleader and an experimental engineer, led this endeav-or.13 In the 1970s he developed a system for using corn,vegetables, and organic residues supplied by membersfor producing gasohol. He adapted a pickup truck torun on gasohol and drove from Alabama toWashington, DC, to promote his plans. His proposalsalso included feed byproducts and methane from cat-tle waste for generating electricity. These projects wereappealing to the membership, but were denied fund-ing from government agencies.14 By the mid-1980s,SWAFCA terminated its operations. Some of its assetswere transferred to another farmer association.

The civil rights movement also reinvigoratedland purchasing for small farms, yet land retentionbecame a more urgent issue for independent blackfarmers. During the late 1960s, churches and othergroups were independently making purchases of rela-tively small tracts of land for self-sufficient farm settle-ments. In other cases, a few cooperatives purchasedsmall tracts of land for market production by mem-bers. Both FSC and SCDP assisted in those projects(Marshall 59).

In the late 1960s, several Alabama tenant farmerswere evicted after they won a lawsuit for their share ofUSDA price support payments. They formed thePanola Land Buyers Association to combine theirefforts for finding and acquiring farmland. With finan-cial assistance from several individuals and groupsthroughout the U.S., Panola and FSC jointly purchaseda 1,164-acre tract of land near Epes, AL, in the mid-1970s. Panola members built homes on part of it, whileFSC established a training center and demonstrationfarm on the remaining part (Federation 1992, 25-26;Bethell, 6-8).

The Emergency Land Fund (ELF) was organizedin 1971 to assist black farmers in Mississippi andAlabama with problems they faced in retaining land.By the 1970s, displacement of tenants was abating, butland loss by black farmers continued. While assistancefor land purchasing was provided, ELF’s major thrustwas to provide legal, tax, and estate planning advice.


13 Albert Turner was the Alabama director of the Southern ChristianLeadership Conference (SCLC). He was a leader of voterregistration drives and confronted considerable danger in theseactivities during the 1960s. He was chosen by the SCLC to lead themule train that carried Dr. Martin Luther King in the funeralprocession.

14 This information was provided by John Zippert of the FSC/LAF.

Page 16: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

ELF established a grass-roots network of citizens,called the County Contacts System, who were trainedin identifying farmers in their counties who were indanger of having to sell their land. When owners werenotified of pending problems, ELF followed up withlegal and other technical assistance (Wood 21).

Over time, County Contacts personnel developeda system that paralleled the county extension serviceof land-grant universities. But the information theyprovided was more relevant to the economic survivalof small farmers. During the 1960s, the USDA con-trolled much of the content that moved through uni-versity channels of extension, including the blackextension service. In one instance, an initiative fortraining on cooperatives for black farmers was blocked(Equal Opportunity, 47). By contrast, County Contactspersonnel covered not only information directly relat-ed to managing land ownership and rights, but also onmarketing strategies to generate more economic valuefrom the land. ELF generated much of this informationfrom its demonstration farms and greenhouses (Wood,22-23).

ELF received Federal funding in 1977 to establishland cooperative associations. The land cooperativesoperated like credit unions as member savings institu-tions but were designed to help farmers finance con-tinued ownership of their lands in times of financialpressure. ELF also spawned several other organiza-tions with a similar mission of land retention. In 1985the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the ELFcombined to form the FSC/LAF (Land AssistanceFund).

FSC/LAF’s educational programs and concernfor land ownership carry on the tradition of Booker T.Washington. But in its commitment to cooperatives,FSC/LAF is more reminiscent of Robert Lloyd Smithand FIST. In contrast to earlier initiatives, theFSC/LAF leadership recognized the indispensabilityof civil rights to achieving the goals of prosperous andindependent farming. FSC/LAF brought farmerstogether in cooperatives for a unified voice to influ-ence development of more favorable, equal-accesspublic policies (Marshall, 3-4).

Melding civil rights with cooperative develop-ment has led to some outside criticism and to periodicdisruptions in funding of FSC/LAF programs (Bethell;Campbell). Even supporters of civil rights regardedthe multiplicity of objectives in cooperatives likeSWAFCA as impractical for cooperative business effec-tiveness (News 1969). In retrospect, progress on civilrights has turned out to be slower than was anticipat-ed in the 1960s. Its incompleteness disadvantaged

many black farmers and cooperatives. But the cooper-ative system established by FSC/LAF has contributedto identifying and eliminating discriminatory prac-tices.15

Recent court decisions and USDA reforms havethe potential for creating a new chapter of moreprogress for black farmers (Civil Rights, USDA). RalphPaige, the executive secretary of the FSC/LAF,observed: "Black farmers and all other others who arerecipients of government services deserve nothing lessthan justice at the hands of government officials.Perhaps now some healing can begin and Black farm-ers can work toward becoming an integral part ofAmerican agriculture" (Zippert, 152). One of theavenues for progress is to assist black farmers ingreater use of formal cooperative methods and proce-dures. Some of the challenges for and progress byblack farmers in applying cooperative business prac-tices and establishing value-added businesses arereviewed in the next section.

Promoting Independent Farm Enterprise

Through Cooperatives

Marketing and purchasing practices of blackfarmers for most of the 20th century have centered onlocal dealings where trusting relationships were sup-ported. During this time, black extension agents initi-ated informal associations or ad hoc cooperatives forseasonal activities such as harvesting, assemblingproducts, and bulk purchasing of farm supplies (Pitts,21). The acceleration of cooperative development inthe 1960s witnessed many associations continuing theinformal approach of the pre-civil rights era whilesome of the civil rights-inspired cooperatives emergedwith a more progressive market access and value-added orientation. The former cooperatives are moretied to historical experience, while the latter have beenbuilding new organizational strategies to develop andmaintain independent farming.

FSC/LAF currently has about 75 cooperativesand credit unions. The majority are predominantlyblack rural cooperatives and credit unions in the


15 Legislation such as the Minority Rights Act in the 1990 Farm Billand the favorable ruling in the recent anti-discrimination caseagainst USDA are visible signs of the political and legal gains thathave been made. Several studies by the U.S. Commission on CivilRights have documented the discrimination and inadequacy ofUSDA services to black farmers (Equal Opportunity in FarmPrograms; The Decline of Black Farming).

Page 17: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

South. Some nonmember cooperatives and creditunions work with FSC/LAF State associations or withuniversities. Table 2 lists these organizations by typeand location in a few of the major states and for theSouth in total.

Eleven of the 50 agricultural cooperatives report-ed are not members of FSC/LAF. Some have devel-oped with assistance from the Arkansas EconomicCorporation, an organization with similar objectivesand services as the SCDF and FSC/LAF. While these50 cooperatives have a formal organizational structureand status, there are an unreported or undocumentednumber of informal or ad hoc cooperatives.

Recent survey-based research in the lowerMississippi Delta region (Scott) and in SoutheasternStates (Onunkwo) have shown that most black farmershave had experience with cooperatives in the past andare aware of their potential benefits. Much of thisexperience, however, was confined to the informaltype of cooperatives (Scott).16 Although most of theseassociations are defunct, they had lasting influence onthe preferences black farmers express about what theywant from cooperatives.

Membership size of most cooperatives in thesoutheastern states ranged between 15 to 20 farmers,while membership size surveys for the MississippiDelta states revealed fewer than 30 members per coop-erative on average. A preference for smaller and localmembership cooperatives was indicated among a sam-ple of black farmers in South Carolina. They preferredsmaller membership cooperatives because of ease ofcommunications and in organizing meetings(Onunkwo, 16).

Leadership has played a critical role in bothinformal and formal types of black farmer coopera-tives. In informal cooperatives, leadership provides thecohesion and coordination that would otherwise beestablished in part by written membership agree-ments, bylaws, and business plans. Many of the infor-mal cooperatives that depended on leadership fromblack extension agents have disappeared. In recentyears, the black extension service has been merged intothe general agricultural extension system. Changes inits program have reduced the extent of past outreachto farmers (Scott).

Many of today’s extant cooperatives are heldtogether by strong leadership from one or just a fewmembers.17 Of the informal type of cooperative, bulkseed purchasing is the most common service to persistover time. Member involvement in these associations,while lacking the equity capital commitment of thestandard cooperative model, has been an in-kind type,based on volunteers for carrying out services(Onunkwo,18). But volunteerism cannot sustain mostcooperatives that seek improved market access andvalue-added operations.

The experience of FSC/LAF staff and the recentsurvey research have identified weaknesses in cooper-ative education regarding transition to formal coopera-tive organization and operations. The pre-civil rightsad hoc cooperatives did not provide this type of educa-tion and experience. Thus, many aspects of the humanand social capital that make farmer cooperatives workdid not have enough opportunity to fully develop inmany rural black communities in the South.

For most of the 20th century, many black farmerssought to protect their independence and ownership ofland by diversifying away from cotton and relying onlocal sales of fruits and vegetables to citizens in theircommunities. One cooperative operates today withhelp from fellow parishioners of a church. Parishionersvolunteer for harvesting and packing, as well as pro-viding a large share of consumer purchases (Rotan). A1996 farmer survey in south-central Alabama observeda predominance of local selling of fruits, vegetables,and livestock where other potential higher-value mar-kets could be developed (Tackie, 50). A concern forprotecting independence can sometimes work againstlong-run sustainability of independent farming if amore commercialized and remunerative system of


Table 2—Black cooperatives and credit unions in theSouth

Location Agricultural co-ops Credit Unionsa Other co-opsb Total

AL 6 6 6 18MS 11 3 3 17GA 7 3 4 14SC 11 0 3 14Otherc 15 7 5 27Total 50 19 21 90

a Includes only black credit union members of FSC/LAF.b Other cooperatives include handicraft, small industry, fishing,

housing, and day-care.c Other states are Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana,

Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

16 The research report by Scott and Dagher is in a draft stage, soreferences will just refer to Scott, without page numbers.

17 Edgar Lewis (USDA/RBS), who has worked with some of thesecooperatives over several years, offered this observation.

Page 18: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

marketing does not develop.Without better prospects, youngergenerations of black farmers willincreasingly seek economic opportu-nities outside farming.

Some cooperatives, particularlymany members of FSC/LAF, havemade progress in commercializationand value-added operations. Thefounders anticipated long-termneeds in both the areas of coopera-tive education and in coordinatinglocal production. They have helpedmember cooperatives introduce andcoordinate adoption of various veg-etable crops to replace cotton.Obtaining sufficient volume of a newcrop for a marketing programinvolves extensive outreach. FSC/LAF’s training cen-ter and demonstration farm in Epes, AL, is designedfor this type of outreach. When a new vegetable orfruit crop is identified as suitable for local growingconditions, FSC provides training in production andmarketing to area farmers. This center has also helpedmany young farmers, not only with production tech-niques, but also with training in cooperative principlesand procedures.

Black farmer cooperatives are increasingly mov-ing toward value-added activities and market develop-ment. Several have vegetable packing facilities to servesupermarket buyers. Others are packing high-valueproducts like pecans; pepper growers are bottling abranded hot sauce. Several livestock projects have alsobeen implemented (FSC/LAF annual report 2000).The development of Southern Alternatives, a pecan-marketing cooperative in Georgia, reflects the recentemphasis on commercialization and expanding marketaccess. The farmers who formed this cooperative in1991 were seeking a way to get around the "middle-men" who procure pecans for the operators of shellingand processing facilities.

Progress in this direction was started in the mid-1990s from discussions with Ben Cohen from Ben andJerry’s Ice Cream Company. A project director fromthat company worked with Southern Alternatives andthe FSC/LAF in developing a business plan. Ben andJerry’s established a purchasing agreement with thecooperative, while a pecan processor in Georgia pre-pared the quantities needed. This opportunity enabled

the cooperative to expand its direct marketing byusing an array of methods such as e-commerce(

A major challenge in retaining land is to increasethe profitability of farming enough to attract youngfarmers. However, the "aging of agriculture" is alsohaving an impact. The average age of American farm-ers reached 54.3 years in the last census. In theMississippi Delta survey of black farmer cooperatives,members were on average more than 60 years old. In asurvey from south-central Alabama, almost 50 percentof limited-resource farmers were between 40 and 54years old, while almost 32 percent were 65 years andolder (Tackie, 47). Survey results for the southeasternregion found that more than 61 percent of farmercooperative members were 50 years or older.

Some of the black farmer cooperatives are takinga proactive strategy of teaching younger generationsabout the rewards of farming. The Beat 4 Cooperativein Mississippi has an innovative youth program.Young people participate in a full range of both farm-ing and marketing activities (FSC/LAF annual report1994-95). They are also trained in computer applica-tions for farming and business, which is particularlyappealing to many young people.

An important dimension of profitable farming islow-cost scale of operation. Surveys indicate that blackfarms are relatively small in relation to the averagesize of farms. In a survey of 54 black farmers in SouthCarolina, about 70 percent farmed 100 or fewer acres(Onunkwo, 22). In the south-central Alabama survey,the mean farm size was 138 acres and the median was40 acres (Tackie, 47). Although these farms are relative-


Page 19: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

ly small, recent census data suggest some consolida-tion in black land holdings. While farm numbersdeclined by 365 between 1992 and 1997 (AppendixTable 3), during the same period the amount of farm-land owned by blacks increased by 3.2 percent(Pennick, 6).

In the recent class action lawsuit against USDA, itwas alleged that in many cases black farmers wereturned away from obtaining loans needed to maintainownership of land. In many instances, these lands hadbelonged for many decades to black family farmers(Pigford). Some individuals also experienced delayswhen trying to borrow to purchase lands from otherblack farmers, while credit for making such purchaseswere made available sooner to white farmers. Theseinstances not only frustrated the opportunity of someblack farmers to expand their scale of operation, butalso increased their concern for the loss to black farm-ing in general.18

Cooperative consolidation or establishing aregional organization is another strategy that mayoffer efficiency gains and cost reductions for blackfarmers (Scott). In one survey of black farmers a major-ity preferred small-membership cooperatives to large,but a large majority also wanted a cooperative to offera comprehensive set of services (Onunkwo, 27). Thefeasibility of delivering services is unlikely withouteconomies of size. More statewide, multi-state, andeven regional organization of cooperatives wouldachieve various economies in providing services andcommercialization strategies. Lack of start-up capital islikely to be a constraint, but important initial stepsinclude developing more lines of communicationbetween growers throughout the South. The FSC/LAFregularly holds conferences that develop acquain-tances and communications among black farmersthroughout the South.

An example of consolidation is provided by theNew North Florida Cooperative (NNFC).When several black farmers in north Florida wanted toorganize a marketing cooperative in 1995, theyreceived technical assistance from USDA’s Natural


18 Knowledge of these developments was provided by Edgar Lewis.Also see the series of investigations by the Associated Press.

Page 20: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other ser-vice organizations. The NRCS agent in north Floridaprovides on-going leadership and assistance in makingNNFC successful. The cooperative receives, washes,and packages a variety of fruits and vegetables forshipment to schools and other institutional marketsthroughout their region (Karg; Holmes). As its cus-tomer base grew, NNFC sought out neighboring blackfarming communities in Alabama for increasedsources of supply. This is an example of a multi-stateapproach to expanding the membership.

A consolidated structure for black farmer cooper-atives could reach more customers beyond their com-munities. A full-time cooperative manager could findvaluable markets for member products. Furthermore, amanager can provide the communications linkbetween customers and farmers. Customers may wantcertain attributes in produce or in its packing forwhich producers can capture value. Black farmers whooperate independently have the flexibility to offerqualities or features for certain fruits and vegetablesthat other systems may not supply. In addition, giventargeted promotion, their produce would have specialappeal to urban consumers. FSC/LAF periodicallycoordinates participation in farmers markets for mem-ber produce in large cities. Start-up costs for anexpanded program, including market promotion, arerelatively high for low-income farmers, but are likelyto be remunerative in the long run.

A major obstacle to applying cooperatives is thereservations that many black farmers have in regard tohaving some of their earnings retained in an associa-tion as compared to immediate dealing with familiarindividuals, whether they are customers in their com-munities or a local broker/dealer. Distrust by someblack farmers for more distant commercial relation-ships and for larger membership cooperatives does notreflect excessive individualism or a desired indepen-dence from commercial society. Rather, its source islikely the experience (which has gradually changed inrecent decades), of being denied equal access to mar-kets and many government services. A history of dis-couragement of opportunities for black farmers toactively and visibly participate as leaders and directorsin community cooperatives may have also weakenedthe development of adequate trust in more sophisticat-ed commercial-type cooperatives.

In addition, a century of often having crop liensused to undermine their economic independence wasnot conducive to developing trust in other types ofcommercial dealings, including formal methods ofcooperative marketing such as pooling. Black farmers

are increasingly discovering that as many of the oldbarriers fade away, the practices that had developedaround such past constraints can be set aside for newbusiness opportunities in using cooperatives.

USDA Rural Development ProgramsA primary role of USDA’s Rural Development

today is to work with farmers and rural residents tobuild cooperatives and other enterprises to increasefarmer income. To be successful in this role, USDAassistance must be tailored to adapt to the differencesin both individual and community needs and localconditions. These efforts must be coordinated withthose of a wide range of universities, state and localgovernments, nonprofit organizations and citizen-cen-tered grassroots organizations. All of these organiza-tions can play critical roles in the process of ruraldevelopment.

The history of black cooperative developmentdemonstrates the necessity of recognizing how culturaland social institutions must be considered in the devel-opment of economic solutions to the challenges facingblack farmers.

The goal of this report was to gain a more com-plete understanding of the historic processes andunique challenges that have faced black farmers asthey have tried to gain operating independence andviability through use of cooperative tools. This under-standing enables USDA to develop more effectivestrategies and partnerships in addressing those uniqueneeds and providing the assistance strategies andmethods most directly meeting the needs of blackfarmers.

Many black farmers today have small-scale oper-ations. Without coordination with other producers toadopt effective strategies for competing in their localmarkets and entering new, more remunerative mar-kets, opportunities for these farmers will shrink. Thehistorical challenge of obtaining and holding onto landis today, more than ever, linked to having marketingprograms and cooperative organizations in place. Forblack farmers, a key challenge is to build effective mar-keting cooperatives that are adequately capitalizedand operating with sound business practices.

USDA now offers a number of programs thatblack farmers can access to assist them in the processof developing and strengthening cooperative business-es to increase returns to their farming operations.USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Services (RBS)provides research, technical assistance and educationalservices to farmers involved in cooperatives through anetwork of national office and state cooperative spe-


Page 21: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

cialists. Through these programs, USDA staff can workdirectly with black farmers and cooperatives to buildstronger business operations.

RBS’ 1890 Land Grant Program builds capacitywithin historically black universities to provide busi-ness advisory services to minority, small and disad-vantaged farmers and rural residents. The RuralCooperative Development Grant Program establishes anetwork of 20 cooperative development assistance cen-ters, operating in conjunction with universities andnonprofit organizations. Several of these centers aretargeted specifically to small and minority farmers.USDA’s new, Value Added Development Grant pro-gram provides an opportunity for minority and otherfarmers to access grants for business planning andstart up activities and operating capital for new enter-prises for gaining greater value from the sale of theiragricultural commodities.


Independent farmers belong to a broad economicclass of owner-operated small businesses. Like othersmall businesses, some farmers choose to function ascontractees in an integrated business system with cen-tralized control of operating decisions. Often, this isnot the result of a choice among alternative ways tooperate, but rather because the producers or smallbusinesses are newcomers to farming or to an industry,and integrated firms provide an opportunity for them.In contrast, farmers who choose to maintain controlover operating decisions are pursuing long-term bene-fits. Black farmers -- like any others -- want operatingindependence for economic prosperity, and not for itsown sake. Their historical experience suggests to manythat their best prospects for long-term prosperityrequire independence from white farm managers andmerchant dealers.

During Reconstruction (1867-76), the U.S. govern-ment attempted to establish an equitable system ofcontracting for agricultural production betweenlandowners and freedmen. By the late 1890s, farm pro-duction systems in the South increasingly adoptedsharecropping and financing secured with crop liens.The decline of civil rights for black citizens under theJim Crow laws supported a command and control sys-tem of farm contracting that often left little room forperformance incentives and opportunities to acquireland. Nevertheless, many planters prior to the 1920ssold parcels of land to their tenants as incentives forproductive and efficient farming.

Booker T. Washington became a leading advocateand developer of programs to help blacks becomeindependent farmers. Best known for his educationalinitiatives, he also promoted land-tract purchases forsubdivision into small family farms. This approachinfluenced later government programs and strategiesduring the civil rights movement. Washington alsoinfluenced the Black Extension Service to promote ashift from cotton to fruits, vegetables, and livestock.While he did not promote cooperatives, other blackleaders did. Experiences with black farmer coopera-tives prior to the 1920s helped keep the idea in circula-tion. Black Extension Service agents regularly initiatedinformal cooperatives, but opportunities for develop-ing formal organizations were limited by the overallimpact of restricted civil rights.

The advent of the New Deal farm programs wasa major setback to the efforts of many black farmers toobtain land. The institutionalizing of commodity pricesupports contributed to concentration of land owner-ship and reduced opportunities for would-be farmers,especially blacks, to enter the business of farming.Furthermore, small tracts of land that an earlier gener-ation of planters had sold to black farm operatorsbecame desirable under the price support programsfor a later generation to reclaim. In addition, for manyyears, USDA services were not equally available toassist black farmers with credit programs for purchas-ing land from neighboring black farmers or from estatesales. Consequently, many black farmers have strug-gled to stay in business without equal opportunity toincrease the scale of their farming operations.

Civil rights leaders emphasized the application ofcooperatives to strengthen independent farmers. Whilethe civil rights movement eliminated the Jim Crowlaws, lingering effects of discrimination were manifest-ed in the diminished trust that many black farmershad toward commercial trade or business dealingsbeyond local market sales. This lack of trust has ham-pered efforts to develop cooperative marketing pro-grams, especially when the latter generate added bene-fits only in return for delivery commitments anddelayed payments. But, FSC/LAF and university pro-grams have provided black farmers with training inthe applications of cooperatives. FSC/LAF has alsohelped cooperatives improve market access and hasassisted black farmers in land retention since the late1960s. USDA Rural Development is also assistingcooperatives and value-added enterprise by blackfarmers.

Cooperatives have taken a prominent role inenhancing the operating independence of black farm-


Page 22: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

ers. This emphasis has not been paralleled in the main-stream tradition of farmer cooperatives. Members ofthose cooperatives have in the past guided manage-ment to maximize earnings without pursuing anydeliberate strategies to develop technologies or mar-keting systems that expand potential advantages ofindependent farming.

The population of independent farmers is declin-ing through farm consolidations and through contract-ing systems that diminish decision-making require-ments of farmers. As this trend continues, theusefulness of cooperatives, as well as the capacity offarmers to organize them, will decline. If farmers aremotivated to maintain operating independence, coop-eratives will develop strategies for production andmarketing systems that use the advantages of coordi-nated but decentralized decisions. The distinctivecharacteristic of cooperatives is in having a member-ship of independent farmers, and correspondingly,their natural source of competitive advantage isderived from augmenting that entrepreneurial inde-pendence. This pursuit reflects the same goal that has,under much different historical circumstances, been ofcentral importance to black farmers for decades.


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Appendix Table 1—A chronology for the history of development of black farmer cooperatives, 1865-1965.

1865-69 Emancipation and the Freedman’s Bureau—new terms and relationships for agricultural production.Churches assume a lasting role in community building and social cohesion.

1867-76 Reconstruction1875 Congress passes Civil Rights Bill guaranteeing equal access to public accommodations regardless of

race.1877 Withdrawal of remaining Federal troops.1878 Beginning of black "exoduster" migrations to Kansas and the West.1883 U.S. Supreme court declares Civil Rights Law of 1875 unconstitutional.1886-92 Farmers Alliance and the Colored Farmers Alliance and Cooperative Union.1890 Second Morrill Act establishes black land-grant colleges. Mississippi constitution marks the begin-

ning of Jim Crow laws – disenfranchisement and segregation.Robert Lloyd Smith organizes the Farmers’ Improvement Society of Texas.

1891 Cotton pickers strike – divisive for the Alliance movement.1896 Plessy v. Ferguson, U.S. Supreme Court declares "separate but equal" public facilities to be constitu-

tional.1900-19 Commodity price improvements and prosperity for black farm owners, while severe conditions for

tenants and sharecroppers increases their involvement in unions. Tuskegee participation in pro-grams for land purchase and resale to small farmers in new settlement communities.

1920-32 Period of recessions and natural disasters.1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act cotton acreage reduction (plow-up). Southern Tenant Farmers Union

calls public attention to the plight of displaced tenants andsharecroppers.1937 Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act establishes the Farm Security Administration.1941 Termination of the cooperative development programs of the Farm Security Administration.1946 Farmers Home Administration replaces the Farm Security Administration for rural development

services, but discontinues the programs for applying cooperatives to meet development needs.1954 Brown v. Board of Education, U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the "separate but equal" doctrine

that it upheld since 1896. This decision is a catalyst for the civil rights movement, although manyearlier developments contribute as well: including President Truman’s policy of integrating the mili-tary, which improved interracial relationships among Korean War veterans.

1963 March on Washington, D.C., and Dr. Martin Luther King’s "I have a dream…"speech.1964 Civil Rights Act of 1964 strengthens right of equal opportunity for all.1965 On March 7 civil rights leaders and supporters march from Selma to the state capital in

Montgomery, AL, to protest continued suppression of voting rights. The march includes voter regis-trations and membership signups for the farmer cooperative, SWAFCA. Violent intervention byState troopers alarms national government leaders.On August 6, President Johnson signs VotingRights Act that provides for Federal Government intervention in states that limit voting from racialgroups. On August 20, Economic Opportunity Act is passed that establishes the Office of EconomicOpportunity (OEO) to conduct the "war on poverty."

Sources: James Oliver Horton, and Lois E. Horton. 2001. Hard Road to Freedom. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, and AnthonyLewis. 1965. Portrait of a Decade. New York: Bantam Books.


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Page 27: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

Appendix Table 3—Farm operators in the U.S. by race, 1900 to 1997

Year Total Black White Other

1900 5,739,657 746,717 4,970,129 22,8111910 6,365,822 893,370 5,440,619 31,8331920 6,453,991 925,708 5,498,454 29,8291930 6,295,103 882,850 5,372,578 39,6751940 6,102,417 681,790 5,377,728 42,8991950 5,388,437 559,980 4,801,243 27,2141959 3,707,973 272,541 3,423,361 12,0711964 3,157,857 184,004 2,957,905 15,9481969 2,730,250 87,393 2,626,403 16,4541974 2,314,013 45,594 2,254,642 13,7771978 2,257,775 37,351 2,199,787 20,6371982 2,240,976 33,250 2,186,609 21,1171987 2,087,759 22,954 2,043,119 21,6861992 1,925,300 18,816 1,881,813 24,6711997 1,911,859 18,451 1,864,201 29,207

Source: Census of Agriculture. Selected years. Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census


Page 28: Black and Ethnic Minority groups

U.S. Department of AgricultureRural Business–Cooperative ServiceStop 3250

Washington, D.C. 20250-3250

Rural Business–Cooperative Service (RBS) provides research,

management, and educational assistance to cooperatives to

strengthen the economic position of farmers and other rural

residents. It works directly with cooperative leaders and

Federal and State agencies to improve organization,

leadership, and operation of cooperatives and to give guidance

to further development.

The cooperative segment of RBS (1) helps farmers and other

rural residents develop cooperatives to obtain supplies and

services at lower cost and to get better prices for products they

sell; (2) advises rural residents on developing existing

resources through cooperative action to enhance rural living;

(3) helps cooperatives improve services and operating

efficiency; (4) informs members, directors, employees, and the

public on how cooperatives work and benefit their members

and their communities; and (5) encourages international

cooperative programs. RBS also publishes research and

educational materials and issues Rural Cooperatives magazine.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits

discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of

race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability,

political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or family

status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.)

Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for

communication of program information (braille, large print,

audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at

(202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD).

To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director,

Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 14th and

Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20250-9410 or

call (202) 720-5964 (voice or TDD). USDA is an equal

opportunity provider and employer.