Amistad Awarded NEH Grant to Organize Collections on Black Agriculture, Cooperatives and Land Owners

by Jasmaine Talley, Curator of Manuscripts

Preparing to plant soybeans at the FSC training center farm in Epes, Alabama, June 1974. Photograph by Pat Goudvis. Used with permission.

The Amistad Research Center is pleased to announce that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded funding assistance of $302,217 to complete archival processing and preservation for the records of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF) and the Emergency Land Fund (ELF). This three-year project follows a previous foundational grant from NEH to survey and plan for future access to these records. The FSC/LAF records comprise 481 linear feet; the ELF records comprise 134 linear feet. The FSC/LAF and ELF collections represent some of the largest sets of organizational records documenting the southern cooperative movement, Black land ownership and agricultural heritage held by an institution in the United States. The accessibility of the FSC/LAF and ELF collections will allow for the hidden history of the African American cooperative tradition to be explored further in the American historical narrative.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives was founded in 1967 as the result of a meeting of twenty low-income cooperatives and credit unions that was sponsored by the Southern Regional Council and the Cooperative League of the USA. The Emergency Land Fund was founded in 1972 by economist Robert S. Browne following a study he wrote titled Only Six Million Acres, documenting the rapid decline in African-American land ownership. ELF promoted the retention and acquisition of land by African Americans and taught rural Blacks about property and mineral rights, how to solicit government and private development money, and related services. The FSC and ELF merged in 1985 to form the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF). The organization now represents 133 low-income predominantly black farming, small business, and health care cooperatives throughout the Deep South.

Freedom Quilting Bee, Alberta, Alabama. June 1974. Photograph by Pat Goudvis. Used with permission.

The FSC/LAF and ELF focused their efforts on political, economic and social justice for minority communities in more arenas than farming and agriculture, resulting in extensive documentation on business development and networking, banking and loan assistance, affordable housing, youth education, and healthcare. Additionally, the records focus on the organization’s work to expose land fraud that affected African American landowners, most notably the lack of Black representation on the planning boards that led to the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and its effects on rural Blacks in northern Alabama.

The records of the FSC/LAF and ELF contribute extensively to the preservation and study of the cultural heritage of African American rural communities throughout the South. These records can be used to investigate the impact cooperative systems have had on Black communities, as well as highlight the success of community-based economic development in defense of racial economic inequality.

Amistad’s staff look forward to reporting on the progress of this project, which is currently slated to begin in mid-2020 and last for three years. We thank the National Endowment for the Humanities for its support.

This project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

#FederationofSouthernCooperatives #EmergencyLandFund, #NEHGrant, #NationalEndowmentfortheHumanities, @NEHgov, @NEH_PresAccess

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