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Black Southern Farmers Need Money To Buy Land in Mississippi for Co-Op

By James M. Fallows

By the time the Southern weather turns warm at the end of this month, farmers in Mississippi and Alabama will have their 1970 cotton crop in the ground and growing.

A group of black Mississippians is now fighting that deadline as they try to raise money to buy their own piece of farm land.

The group-called Freedom Farms Co-Op-is trying to buy a 640-acretract of land in Mississippi's Sunflower County. On the land-which is now owned by a white planter-the group wants to set up a farmers' cooperative for the blacks of one of the nation's poorest regions.


But the down-payment on the land is $76,000, and the co-op now has only $30,000, Unless they can raise the rest of the money in the next few weeks, the farmers will lose this year's use of the land, and will possibly forfeit their chance to buy the land at all.

Under similar circumstances in January, 1969. the fledgling co-op came to Harvard for help.

Shortly after the group's leader-veteran civil rights worker Fannie Lou Hamer-made an emergency plea for money. Harvard donors sent in some $3300. With that money, the co-op held its option on a 40-acre farm where it began its first cooperative projects.

At that time, when the co-op was just getting started, Mrs. Hamer said that its goal was not only to provide a farm income for landless families, but also to serve as a social and political organizing center for the blacks of the Mississippi Delta.

Since then, the co-op has concentrated on five projects to help the 500 families who are members:

farming-last year the co-op raised cotton, soybeans, and vegetables on its initial 40 acres. The income from the cotton and soybeans will go toward repaying the $12,000 mortgage left on the land, while the vegetables were distributed to the families:

housing-the co-op has so far built three low-cost houses, and is hoping for a Federal grant to let it develop 27 other housing sites. More than 95 per cent of the county's blacks live in houses officially classified as "dilapidated and deteriorating." and some 100 families were evicted from tenant homes on white plantations last year;

hog-raising-after the National Council of Negro Women gave the co-op 50 pigs, the farmers set up a "pig bank." Farmers may borrow one of the pigs if they return a certain portion of the first litter to the central pig supply;

education-in a region where barely ten per cent of the black children even finish high school, the co-op has obtained grants to send black students to college;

retail business-using money from a national fund-raising campaign, the co-op has made loans to some of the small-scale black businesses in the area.

If it can get the 640-acre farm, the co-op will devote most of the land to production of cash crops-cotton and soybeans-which will provide jobs for black workers and earn incomes to repay the farm's $250,000 total purchase price.

But part of the land will go to other projects. More low-cost houses, for example, might be built on a 100-acre section of the land if the co-op can get the necessary Federal loan.

Plans for the new land also include a "vegetable bank." Co-op farmers would use part of the land to grow vegetables, and would then freeze them for distribution to hungry families throughout the rest of the year.

The Co-op is located in one of the most chronically-depressed regions of the country. Sunflower County, like the rest of the Mississippi Delta, has a heavily-black population, but the black families there live on a median annual income of $450.

Land owning has been a particular problem for the Delta blacks. In Sunflower County-where the biggest land-owner is Sen. James Eastland (D.Miss.)-only 71 of the county's 31,000 blacks own any land.

To get the money the co-op needs-from the $46,000 land payment to the $1500 price of a freezer for the vegetable bank-Mrs. Hamer has begun another national search for funds.

The co-op's representative at Harvard is Lester Salamon, teaching fellow in Government. Salamon said yesterday that contributions could be mailed to Freedom Farms Co-Op, c/o Quincy House office #4.

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