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.