COOPERATIVE ECONOMIC POWER
The Freedom Quilting Bee is a founding co-op of the Federation
"During my travels, which lasted about 3 months, I visited sugarcane plantations, poultry workers, and a number of Federation of Southern Cooperatives member co-ops including pulpwood workers, the Freedom Quilting Bee, small farmers, a sewing co-op and others.
I knew in advance that I would be visiting some people whose living and working conditions were appalling, but I was still shocked. Reading about inequality was one thing; seeing it was another. What I didn’t know beforehand, and never could have imagined, was the warmth and trust of nearly all the people I met, regardless of their difficulties, income or race. In spite of being a young white woman raised in the North (Ohio), I felt welcome in the South.
Nonetheless, I carried with me a deep and on-going self-doubt about what I was trying to do, and for who? What made me think that I could record something genuine and useful? Only once, that I can remember, was I ever seriously challenged about my motives. Once at a meeting I was rightfully taken to task for thinking I might be able to “know” and communicate something about what I was seeing. In spite of my uncertainty, I kept going. That the photos now hold some historical value is deeply gratifying and replaces at least some of the equally deep discomfort I felt at the time.
After the trip I sent photos back to the people and organizations I’d visited. Some were used in various publications. Then they went into storage. I finished college and continued as a documentary photographer and later filmmaker, focusing on human rights and social justice in Central America. There too I was a privileged outsider, hoping that the cameras I carried would allow me into people’s lives. And that I had the skill and talent to help tell their stories.
Reflecting back on my trip, I think it had a much greater impact on me than I realized at the time. In spite of my own misgivings about what I was trying to do, the people I met were friendly and generous. They invited me to sit on their porches. They took a break from work to chat. They seemed eager to share their stories. Had they reacted differently, I don’t know if I would have continued trying to be a documentary photographer or filmmaker. All those people helped me believe that something good and useful could come from using my cameras to cross borders and open doors. For that, I will always be grateful." Pat
Quilting Bee moms at work- Children in preschool
This exhibit is a collection of photos of black farmers, landowners, and cooperatives- members of the Federation. The exhibition showcases photographs from our archives dating back to circa 1974-2003. It is our hope that you gain a deep understanding and appreciation for African-American farming as well as the importance of food justice, land justice, and equity in the American food system. Our archival collection will continue to grow and expand into key exhibits of history and life in Rural Southern regions in America!
"This is the Greene-Hale Sewing Cooperative of Greensboro, Alabama. Organized by Mr. Lewis Black and Mildred Black. The worker co-op provided jobs for 50 women. They had contracts to sew panties and other garments for J. C. Penney's in the 1970s. When all apparel jobs moved to low-wage countries, the co-op could no longer compete with other places on low wages. China was paying $5 a day and the co-op was trying to pay $5.00/hour at that time." John Zippert
Photographer Larry Herman, London, United Kingdom
© Photograph by Pete Maclaine
LAND, LAND, LAND
LAND, LAND, LAND!
"During the past century, the character of farming in the United States has changed beyond recognition. In 1910, African American farmers owned 15.6 million acres of farmland. Today, less than 2.5 million acres are farmed by Black families in the South and they are collectively losing land at the rate of 9,000 acres a week. Between 1920 and 1992, the number of farms owned by African Americans decreased from 925,000 to 18,616, a ninety percent drop.
This project, "Land, Land, Land!", documented the lives of Black farmers throughout the southern United States. I photographed them in their environment and how they were organized to defend a culture under profound economic and social pressure.
The photographs here are the result of the first two months' work of a project that took a few years to finish and is now part of the traveling exhibition. This exhibition was very much a "work in progress". At the end of the project, fifty-seven photos were donated to the Federation as part of the permanent archive of the Federation."
RESILIENT FARM FAMILIES
"These photographs are of people who are fighting a trend. They are people who have emerged from the cycle of endlessly giving their labor to others, often to big businesses and industries so conspicuous in American agriculture. I have sought to capture the activities of men, women, and children who, along with the aid of their cooperatives, are keeping alive what they feel to be basic rights—to own land, to work for themselves on the land, and to secure that land for generations to come. With immense courage, these families experience daily the joys and sorrows that come with working on the soil and the hope that comes from pursuing their dreams for the future."