The Rural Training and Research Center (RTRC)

Federation of Southern Cooperative's Rural Training & Research Center in Epes, Alabama

By Amistad Research Center

Exhibit created by Eric Stein, Tulane University student

Group photo of young farmers at the RTRC by Federation of Southern CooperativesAmistad Research Center

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC)

Formed out of the civil rights movement, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (FSC/LAF) was established in 1967 to create community-based economic development opportunities throughout the rural South for black farmers and rural communities.

As the organization grew from a tiny office in Atlanta so did their vision for the future. Member cooperatives voiced a great need for practical vocational training so FSC/LAF decided to build a training center to meet those demands.

PLBA Housing Development Corp vehicle (circa 1980s) by Federation of Southern CooperativesAmistad Research Center

Panola Land Buying Association (PLBA)

The Rural Training and Research Center (RTRC) was established when the Federation’s leadership partnered with the Panola Land Buying Association (PLBA) to acquire 1,164-acres of land in Epes, in Sumter County, Alabama. 

The PLBA began as a group of tenant farmers who had been evicted from their farmland and had joined together to regain land for their members.

An agreement was established between the FSC and the PLBA to work together to purchase the acres of land, and, upon their success, a portion of the land would be distributed to the FSC to establish their headquarters. 

A three-year legal battle to purchase the land was fought by the FSC’s Lewis Black, Albert Turner and Thelma Craig and the previous white landowner, P.M. Norwood, who had lost the land in a foreclosure. 

They ultimately won in federal court in 1971 and the FSC opened the Rural Training and Research Center (RTRC) in Epes, Alabama, in Sumter County, along the banks of the Tombigbee River.

Administration Building (1974-06) by Patrica GoudvisAmistad Research Center

RTRC Demonstration Farm

Once built, the Rural Training and Research Center (RTRC) and Demonstration Farm was used to offer agricultural training courses on beef cattle production, swine and feeder pig production, greenhouse production, row crop and vegetable production, and other projects. 

Cooperative members from all over the South learned how to plant and rotate their crops, manage livestock, and apply practices to foster personal productivity and economic growth.

Curriculum (circa 1970s) by Federation of Southern CooperativesAmistad Research Center

RTRC Training

The Rural Training and Research Center (RTRC) started as a building with a classroom and demonstration farm.

Graduation (Circa 1970s) by Federation of Southern CooperativesAmistad Research Center

It would eventually grow to include administrative offices, a dormitory, cafeteria, classroom, a materials reproduction center, artist studio, and a recreation area.

Meeting (circa 1970s) by Federation of Southern CooperativesAmistad Research Center

Training courses at the RTRC grew to include administrative and managerial curriculum. The RTRC provided technical assistance in areas such as research, management, bookkeeping, marketing, housing-land development, legal counsel, and loan packaging.

Staff Housing (1974-06) by Patrica GoudvisAmistad Research Center

RTRC as a Home

The RTRC became the symbolic home base for the organization, but for many staff members the term “home” was more literal.

The 1,164 acre parcel of land redeemed by the FSC/LAF and PLBA was used to build homes for PLBA members and to house the FSC's Rural Training and Research Center. 

The original staff members of the RTRC relocated to Epes, Alabama with their families in order to build the center. The staff includes Wendell Paris, George and Alice Paris, John Zippert and Carol Prejean Zippert, and Jim Jones.

In those formative years, the staff and their families lived in trailers on the property while the housing and training centers were being built.

The staff worked alongside contract laborers and contributed a portion of their salaries to help fund the project.

These years were filled with hardship, but a close-knit community began to steadily, and resolutely, form. 

Wendy Hills Construction (1970) by Federation of Southern CooperativesAmistad Research Center

PLBA Housing Development Corporation

The need for adequate housing in the area had been examined in a 1975 Regional Housing Market Study undertaken by the Alabama-Tombigbee Regional Planning and Development Commission. The study stated that 70% of all rural housing in the area was substandard.

The first phase of housing construction was called the Wendy Hills subdivision and included fifty houses for PLBA members.

The original hope was to establish cooperative housing on the PLBA's 1,164 acre parcel of land, but it became impossible when innumerable and unexpected bureaucratic complications and delays halted the project.

The PLBA Housing Development Corporation determined that available financial assistance in the form of rental subsidies from HUD made it more practical to build rental units that originally planned cooperative housing.

House Construction (1970) by Federation of Southern CooperativesAmistad Research Center

The one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom units (ten of each) were completed, but out of the one hundred families who applied for housing, only forty could be accepted.

The needs of the sixty families who could not be accepted did not go unheeded.
The PLBA Housing Development Corporation continued to develop housing projects, including the Aliceville project, Eutaw Elderly Village, Marengo Homes and Willow Housing. 

Event in Tent (ca 1970s) by Federation of Southern CooperativesAmistad Research Center

The RTRC's Legacy

The FSC/LAF leaves a legacy through their work at the Rural Training and Research Center (RTRC). Black farmers learned how to save, protect and use their land in a sustainable way. 

The RTRC is a place to communicate the ideology and philosophy of the cooperative movement and to promote the tools for economic advancement of rural communities.

It became the foundation of the FSC/LAF’s operations and remains so to this day.

National Endowment for the Humanities (2022) by National Endowment for the HumanitiesAmistad Research Center

This project has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Humanities Collections and Reference Resources. 

Credits: Story

Exhibition created by Tulane University student, Eric Stein and Project Archivist, Courtney Tutt.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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