Alice Walker: "We Cannot Be Ourselves Without Our Land"

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The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund on August 19, 2010 honored Alice Walker in Birmingham, AL at its annual dinner attended by more than 400 people.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and self-proclaimed "daughter of the rural peasantry" was presented the Estelle Witherspoon Lifetime Achievement award by FSC Executive Director Ralph Paige. The largely black organization of farmer cooperatives works to save and preserve black-owned farmlands. 

Walker had received a standing ovation as she walked, escorted by Paige, to the stage.  During her walk, she threw kisses at the audience.  A short film highlighted her life and accomplishments.  When she spoke, a hush descended over the huge room, as if a Goddess was speaking, I imagine.  She seemed touched too by the love and respect she was given.

 alice blowing kisses

 "I am holding my father in my hands," said Walker, as she held the beautifully shaped clear award up for all to see.  "That is, my father the sharecropper."  

She said that seeing the Federation's logo that night showing a black man with a plow brought up a memory she had long forgotten.  As a little girl she would take a bucket of water to her father in a huge field in which he was working.


"He's out there with one mule and one plow," said Walker, her salt and pepper hair evidence of how long she had this memory. "He's been out there before day break and he's plowing this enormous field that you can't see the end of, by himself. And my mother is hoeing a field by herself." 

She said many black parents suffered so much so that their children could survive, and performing back breaking labor on the land was an important part of survival.

"They did that for us from sun up to sun down."

Walker has great love for animals and the land and nature in general, as evidenced by themes of some of her books, as well as her activism.


"We cannot be ourselves without our land," she declared.  "We come from a tradition where people respected the land, and you did not have to own it to love it.  That alone puts us into opposition to much of what this culture is about."

Walker, who usually isn't that thrilled about awards because "my award came to me at birth," felt different about the Estelle Witherspoon award.

"This award means a lot to me because it comes from people who know where I come from, " she said. 

Estelle Witherspoon was one of the founders of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Quilting Bee, the Artisans Cooperative, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and the Alabama State Association of Cooperatives.  

Through quilt-making she helped her neighbors achieve local, state and national prominence for their quilting through the Quilting Bee. 

alice with quilt

Walker, a quilter and collector of quilts, was also presented a purple and white quilt which she lovingly wrapped around her. The entire board of FSC/LAC stood on stage with her.

Past recipients of the Estelle Witherspoon Award include Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Cicely Tyson, Tavis Smiley, and Rep. John Lewis.

The dinner was an important feel-good moment.  It is special indeed to be in the same space as the regal Alice Walker.  One feels her spiritual power.  She creates "awe" simply by being. It is a blessing to be in the same space with her.

 alice and the board

For more information on Alice Walker, check out her first ever website, which includes her "wanderings" and a picture of her with her "power food" -- collards.




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