Photo courtesy of the Rockefeller Archive Center.
Launched in 1970, the Fund’s Southern Program was concerned with the economic and social disenfranchisement of black Southerners, in particular the roles of poverty and land loss in massive outmigration from the rural South to Northern cities. Initially the Fund supported organizations working on rural-to-urban migration through voter education, technical assistance, litigation, and representation of minority concerns in Washington, D.C. policymaking. This work shared focus with the Fund’s Equal Rights and Opportunities Program. In the mid-1970s, the Southern Program turned to economic development designed to help African American Southerners acquire and retain farmland. The RBF initiated a Task Force on Rural Southern Development, worked to attract capital investment to the region, created a regional agricultural development corporation, and initiated a foundation-corporation consortium for community economic development.
Southern Program grantees included the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the Center for Community Change, the Delta Foundation, the Emergency Land Fund, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Rural Advancement Fund of the National Sharecroppers Fund, the Southern Regional Council, and the Voter Education Project. By 1978, the RBF expanded its interest in dwindling farmland to the U.S. as a whole, and the Southern Program was phased out.