FVSU Alumnus Ralph Paige, ’67, Left Irreplaceable Legacy in Civil Rights, Agriculture, and Entrepreneurship

Called the "Champion of Black Farmers" by the New York Times, Paige helped secure more than $2 billion in the largest successful discrimination lawsuit against the federal government in American history

Jul. 19, 2018

Whoever said that “you can’t fight City Hall” obviously never met FVSU alumnus Ralph McDaniel Paige, who graduated from FVSU in 1967. Over a multifaceted career, Paige revolutionized the landscape for black farmers, demanding that the United States Government treat them fairly, and winning billions of dollars to compensate for inequitable past treatment. He fought for, and received, and unprecedented level of justice.

Watch: Paige discusses the origins of the Southern Cooperative Movement:

For 30 years,from 1985-2015, Paige led the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, an organization that helps black and low-income farmers pool their resources to create stronger business units in the form of cooperatives. Cooperatives allow small farms to take advantage of scale economies, lowering costs as they purchase goods and materials in bulk, and allowing them to negotiate sales, distribution, and services more powerfully as a large unit, as opposed to smaller individual businesses. The Federation also shares information and provides training to strengthen the production capacity of the farms and enhance living standards in rural communities and helps farmers retain their land.

While leading the Federation, Paige helped to organize 70 cooperatives and 18 community development credit unions, which were critical to providing the financing the smaller farms needed to operate. These structures allowed the farmers to be true entrepreneurs, gaining greater control over their businesses and ensuring more stability in capital availability by collaborating with other farmers for mutual benefit and strength.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) often provides loans and credits to farmers to help offset swings in commodity prices and ensure that farmers and rural communities can prosper in an industry where profit margins may be lower. This has opened up opportunities for countless farmers across the country, but discriminatory practices by the government often resulted in less access to loans, disaster relief, and other funding for black farmers. In the 1990s, Paige led efforts to highlight the federal government’s discrimination, taking the Black Farmers Caravan to the nation’s capital to bring awareness to the issue, and then spearheading efforts to file suit against the USDA. The resulting class-action lawsuit, Pickford vs. Glickman, yielded $2.5 billion in payments from the federal government to 15,000 black farmers, the largest successful discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. government in history.

Paige was born in LaGrange, GA on July 28, 1943. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in physical education from FVSU in 1967 after playing football and swimming for the college. Before becoming a cooperative organizer, he served as a school teacher.

Among other honors, Paige has received the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award and the Leadership Award from the Congressional Black Caucus.

More information about this transformative FVSU alumnus can be found here:

  • Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund website here.
  • New York Times obituary here.
  • Washington Post obituary here.
  • Cooperative Hall of Fame here.
  • Interview with Paige in In Motion Magazine here.
  • Congressman Bennie Thompson honors Paige in the Congressional Record here.

 

Fort Valley State University