Federation of Southern Cooperatives marks 52nd anniversary amid new awareness of involuntary Black land loss


The annual Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner in Birmingham honored the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. [photo: Greg Irving]
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF), an organization working to reverse the trend of African American land loss and spur land-based economic development, celebrated its 52nd Anniversary in August with events in Birmingham and Epes, Alabama.

The annual Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner in Birmingham honored the Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. for his lifetime commitment to the civil rights movement and work with the federation. During the 1980s, Jackson worked to open markets to rural southern farmers and helped expand the Federation’s work internationally.

Workshops on heirs’ property, land retention, farm and food safety, cooperative development, finance and marketing were held at the FSC/LAF’s Rural Training and Research Center in Epes. Representatives from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies including Farm Production and Conservation, the U.S. Forest Service and Farm Service Agency discussed access to government programs.

While FSC/LAF has worked to maintain Black land ownership for many years, the issues recently received the attention of the mainstream press.  New Yorker piece by Lizzie Presser looks at the impact of “heir’s property” on Black landownership and wealth building. Heirs’ property is inherited land that two or more people own that is typically passed to heirs without a will or with a clouded title. With multiple heirs owning the property it is difficult to receive grants or loans and more likely that courts will order sale of the land to resolve the estate. USDA says heir’s property is  “the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.”

Another piece in The Atlantic by Vann R. Newkirk II describes the efforts of Black landowners fighting discrimination and violence to keep their land. Newkirk details the efforts of the Emergency Land Fund to cease the loss of Black land and wealth. The Emergency Land Fund merged with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in 1985 to create the present organization.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund is a member of NCBA CLUSA. Its Executive Director, Cornelius Blanding, sits on the association’s Board of Directors.

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