INDIANAPOLIS — For 30 years, two organizations evolved and prospered. With similar goals, ideals and often coinciding paths, each group developed leaders who would become pioneers in their communities and in agriculture.
One of these organizations is the National FFA Organization, today boasting more than 525,000 members. The other, the New Farmers of America (NFA), existed for African-American young men in a world where “separate but equal” was a way of life.
The roots of the New Farmers of American organization began through the work of agriculture teachers as early as 1917. Between 1917 and 1928, each state had an NFA-type organization, but with differing names. In Texas, for example, it was known as the Progressive Farmers; in South Carolina, the Junior Farmers.
NFA was organized in Virginia in 1927 and became a national organization in 1935. Much like the FFA, NFA sought to provide young men with vocational, social and recreational activities in order to develop their skills in public speaking, leadership and agricultural trades, and by 1940, there were 25,393 members nationwide.
In 1965, NFA and FFA merged — in large part because of pressure from the federal government — and FFA added the talents of 52,000 NFA members to its roster.
The last NFA national president, A. D. Pinson, presented his black corduroy jacket to his FFA counterpart at that year’s national convention. To this day, that jacket hangs in the National FFA Center in Indianapolis.
The year 2010 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of NFA, and on Oct. 20, during the 83rd National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Ind., Pinson and 10 former members of NFA were honored with commemorative bricks, which were engraved with their names and placed in the courtyard of the National FFA Center.
“These men paved the way for individuals like me,” said Corey Flournoy, the 1993-1994 national FFA president and the first African American to serve in that post. “We appreciate everything you’ve done to represent agriculture and to represent strong African-American males.”
Pinson, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, spoke about the changes he sees in the organization he helped form 45 years ago.
“When I look at today’s convention,” said Pinson. “I can look and say there is an African-American presence in the Future Farmers of America. I can look and say there are women serving as officers of the Future Farmers of America.”
Diversity still needed
There is, however, more work to be done. At the time of the 1965 merger, over one-quarter of FFA members were African American. At the end of 2008-2009, only 4 percent of African-Americans were reported on the FFA rosters.
During the opening sessions of the 83rd National FFA Convention, NFA honorees took prominent places on the Conseco Fieldhouse stage, reciting the NFA Creed. During their time in the spotlight, they made an impact on the FFA members they encountered.
“I feel like we have a strong legacy of the past to live up to,” said Alexis Rayburn, president of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences FFA Chapter. “You can feel the strength of these men and you can see how it’s [been] passed onto today’s members.”
Credit: National FFA Organization