ATLANTA, GEORGIA....On behalf of the staff, membership and Board of Directors of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (Federation), I, Ralph Paige, am writing to express our sorrow at the loss of Nelson Mandela. And yet, we also celebrate his life. His long and distinguished work for justice has been an inspiration for those of us who have sought justice in the United States. We also claim him as our leader.
In the 1990's, in fact, the Federation named a housing initiative in Alabama after Mr. Mandela, known as the Griffin-Mandela Apartments. The United Nations awarded the Federation for these apartments stating that they were an excellent model for low-income rural communities.
In the 1960's, Mr. Mandela was arrested and then imprisoned for 30 years on Robbin Island because of his activism and leadership against the horrors of the apartheid system. At the same time, we in the southern part of the United States were demanding our rights, freedom of expression and economic advancement against the destabilizing horrors of Jim Crow laws in the South.
Our organization was created in the 1960's in response to this oppression. It was launched on the heels of rural Blacks attempting to express their constitutional rights of voting, access to government services and civil rights overall as American citizens. Unfortunately, these initiatives for freedom were met with derision by many white leaders in the South, such as government officials who denied credit and jobs to those, for example, who wanted to vote or to also assist others to register to vote and to demand the end of the oppressive Jim Crow laws.
As a result of this activism, thousands of Black farmers were forced off their land. Others were forced off plantations where they worked as sharecroppers. Thousands left the South in response or were left homeless in desolate rural areas.
The Federation was created in 1967 specifically to assist these struggling Black farmers and rural communities in need. Our tool was and is cooperative economic development as a way of empowering communities and individuals. As a result, thousands of Black family farmers across the south have saved their land and have become more economically viable.
We were thrilled and honored when, in 1995, President Mandela's "Minister of Land Affairs", Derek Hanekom, spoke at our Annual Meeting at our Training & Research Center in Epes, Alabama. He remarked that he had searched throughout the world for a port folio that was similar to what South Africans were attempting in terms of land reform for dispossessed Africans. As he could find no similar program in governments anywhere in the world, Hanekom chose to make his first international visit to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund that resonated with similarities to the South African land reform initiatives as well as similar challenges.
We are so thankful for life of Nelson Mandela. He has led the way for millions of us throughout the world. His compassion, wisdom and tireless dedication have been an inspiration to us all. And while our work for justice is by no means complete, it is thanks to the leadership of Nelson Mandela that we are inspired to continue and to never give up the struggle.