The Rural Training and Research Center has a complicated past steeped in the quite Civil Rights movement of West Alabama.
Overshadowed by the events in Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham a legal battle played out between African American tenant farmers and white landowners, resulting in the tenants being evicted.
The community came together and formed the Panola Land Buying Association. The goal was to build a place that was theirs. As part of that movement, the Federation of Rural Coops supported the farmers along the way.
In 1970 the PLBA formally purchased around 1,100 acres in Epes, Sumter County, Alabama and the Federation of Rural Coops opened the Rural Training and Research Center, supporting and educating farmers across the South.
Today, the center is still in operation, but with the decline of small-time farming and rural communities, it needs support. Its facilities are suffering from years of deferred maintenance, but they remain useful.
The preservation of this site is more important because of what it represents. The triumph of a resilient community and a focus on preserving rural communities. Sumter County along with the rest of the Black Belt suffer from economic and agricultural decline.
Their way of life is increasingly at threat from a culture that is progressing at a rapid pace. It seems, with the proper support, the Rural Training and Research Center can help these communities move forward with sustainable goals.
The federation is a significant organization but needs publicity to elevate this significant resource to attract support.
Special note: This site is a significant agricultural learning center for self-supporting African American farmers in West Alabama. With the decline of single family-owned farms, the Federation of Rural Coops, through the Rural Training & Research Center supports, educates, and provides a community for small-time farmers.
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