Ralph Paige, former Executive Director of the

Federation of Southern Cooperatives, dies at 74


Ralph Paige, former Executive Director of the Federation of

Southern Cooperatives/and Assistance Fund, died Thursday at 74.

He served as Executive Director for 30 years from 1985 to 2015. He

began working for the Federation in 1969 and served the organization

for 46 years.


A native of LaGrange, Georgia, he was the seventh of twelve

children. Ralph attended local public schools and graduated with a BA

degree in Education from Fort Valley State College, an HBCU, in 1967.

He was active in sports of football and swimming during college.

After serving briefly as a school teacher and coach, Ralph

became a cooperative organizer with the Federation in west Georgia in

1969. He assisted the Harris County Farmers Co-op to grow and

expand its scope and services to become the West Georgia Farmers

Co-op. He later headed the Federation’s Business Development Office

in LaGrange, Georgia giving advice and loan packaging services to

cooperatives and small businesses in the area.


In 1977, he directed the Federation’s National VISTA program

providing 110 volunteer staff at 60 locations from South Carolina to

Texas. In this role, he traveled and met with the membership and

leadership of the Federation throughout the South.

In 1985, when Charles Prejean, the Federation’s first Executive

Director stepped aside, the organization’s Board of Directors chose

Ralph Paige to succeed him.


During his thirty years as Executive Director, he built the

Federation into the premier organization representing Black farmers

and low-income rural people in the South. He helped to organize 70

cooperatives and 18 community development credit unions during his

tenure as Executive Director. He supported the development of the

Federation’s unique Rural Training and Research Center in Epes,

Alabama, including an agroforestry component and forestry



He led the Federation in a 1992 Black Farmers Caravan to

Washington, D.C. to highlight the discriminatory policies of the United

States Department of Agriculture. The Caravan ended with a protest in

front of USDA by several hundred Black farmers who brought a pig to

show their distain for USDA policies.


He spearheaded efforts from the mid-1990’s forward to file suit

against USDA for discrimination in credit, conservation and rural

development. These efforts led to the historic Pigford I and Pigford II

class action cases, which became the largest successful discrimination

lawsuits against the U. S. Federal government and yielded $2.5 billion

in payments to thousands of Black farm families. He also supported

discrimination settlements for Native American, Hispanic and Women

farmers who were also subjected to discrimination by USDA.


He worked on legislation to reform farm and rural policies to

allow for the formation of the National Co-op Bank, creation of the

Section 2501 Outreach and Technical Assistance Program for Socially

Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, expansion of farm credit to

include Micro-loans, appropriate to family-size farming operations; and

the creation of the Rural Cooperative Development Program to support

cooperative development and training centers, like the Federation’s at



In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Federation of

Southern Cooperatives implemented a comprehensive Relief and

Recovery Project (RRP), which focused on both short and long term

assistance to thousands of farmers, fishers, families and individuals

displaced and affected by the hurricanes. The RRP has enabled a

significant number of victims and affected communities to receive the

resources and assistance necessary for them to cope with their

immediate situation while developing concrete plans for the future.

Despite obstacles, financial problems, and many times a hostile

and racially charged environment, Ralph maintained the Federation, an

annual budget of $3 million, and a staff of 30 or more trained

specialists around the South. He mentored and trained, Cornelius

Blanding, to take over his position as Executive Director. In 2015,

Ralph retired to take care of his health. His greatest legacy is that the

Federation has continued and flourished, celebrating its 50th

anniversary in August 2017. A succession plan that he initiated has

replaced the ‘founding generation of core staff’ with a new generation

of capable leadership to guide the organization for the next generation

and into the future.


Ralph served on many boards and received many honors in his

lifetime. Among the Boards were: Nationwide Insurance Company,

National Cooperative Business Association, Cooperative Development

Foundation, Cooperative Business International, the President’s

(George Bush) Twenty-first Century Agriculture Commission, Rural

Policy Advisory Committee to President Barack Obama and many



He received numerous awards including induction into the

Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2004, Martin Luther King Humanitarian

Award from SCLC, George Washington Carver Hall of Fame at

Tuskegee, Congressional Black Caucus Leadership Award, NCBA Co-op

Month Leadership Award and many others.



2017 was a momentous and memorable year for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. In August 2017, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our trailing-blazing social change organization serving Black farmers and other low-income and working poor people across the South.

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