In 1967, a young couple in St. Landry’s Parrish won a milestone lawsuit to become the first interracial couple married in Louisiana. He was in town to register minority voters and integrate businesses following the passage of the Voters Rights Act of 1965. She had earned a coveted spot from Southern Consumers’ Cooperative in Louisiana to study cooperatives for three consecutive summers. Partners in both life and the pursuit for racial, social and economic justice in the U.S. South, John and Carol (Prejean) Zippert continue to embody the principles and priorities of the two movements that shaped their lives-the civil rights movement and the cooperative movement.
Father A. J. McKnight, himself a Cooperative Hall of Famer deeply involved in community and cooperative development across Louisiana, first kindled the couple’s passion and commitment to the cooperative movement. The same year they were married, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund was chartered. From the 1960s onward, John and Carol’s lives progressed in lockstep with the mission of the Federation and the growth of the cooperative movement in the South.
For 45 years, John has served as the Director of Program Operations for the Federation at its Rural Training and Research Center in Epes, Alabama, where he promotes cooperative economic development for low-income and minority people in ten Southeastern states. In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, John expanded the center’s reach to include relief work, enlisting cooperatives to help individuals, families and other co-ops recover and rebuild along the Gulf Coast. During his career at the Federation, John has trained staff, mentored countless young people and designed programs to further sustainable small farming and cooperative development. The Federation honored John’s dedication with its Staff Award in 1977, 1978 and 1996.
John is a champion of cooperative development, a co-op policy analyst and a cooperative historian currently writing a book about the Federation. His career highlights also include contributions to housing co-ops and affordable housing for low-income people in Alabama. As a member of the Southern Cooperative Development Program staff, he helped former tenant farmers form the Panola Land Buyers Association and buy 1,164 acres of land in 1970. In 1980, the association established a housing cooperative. John also played a critical role in the Southern Grassroots Economics Project, which works to build democratic ownership in the U.S. South and hosts CoopEcon, an annual training institute for cooperative members.
Since 1985, John and Carol have together published the Green County Democrat Newspaper, a weekly publication to inform and educate their primarily African-American community.
In 1985, Carol earned her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership, Supervision and Curriculum Development from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. As a self-described “community worker,” she dedicated five decades to building leadership and developing co-ops with the Federation-where she continues to volunteer-as well as supporting grassroots community groups in their work to achieve social transformation. Carol is currently an adjunct research professor and resource specialist for Tuskegee University’s Community-Based Youth Partnerships. She has been involved with the 21st Century Youth Leadership movement since its inception in 1986 and continues to serve on its board.
Carol is also president and founder of the Greene Country Employees Federal Credit Union. Under her leadership, one of the poorest counties in the U.S. built a credit union that has accumulated more than $1 million in assets. In addition, Carol’s poetry and cultural organizations such as the Black Belt Community Foundation strengthen connections and trust among people, their co-ops and their communities.
The Cooperative Hall of Fame is administered by the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation headquartered in Washington, D.C. promoting community, economic and social development through cooperative enterprises.The Cooperative Hall of Fame gallery is on display at NCBA CLUSA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and can also be viewed online at www.heroes.coop.