early history of black cooperatives in america

posted August 6, 2013

via the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund

The History of Cooperatives in the Black Community  DuBois

And Other Updates on the Federation’s Website 
ATLANTA….We now have on our website information about the history of cooperatives in America’s Black community, thanks to the work of scholar Jessica Nembhard. Please go the following link to read the entire document: Early History of  Cooperatives in Black America. Other recent additions about cooperatives on our website include  Impact of Cooperatives on the United States Economy and How Successful Cooperative Economic Models Can Work Wonderfully.

Below please find the introductory comments on the Federation’s Early History of Black Cooperatives in America.

In the search for solutions to bring long term and meaningful economic development to urban and rural communities around the world, and to increase asset ownership and civic engagement, Blackscholar W.E.B. Du Bois was one of several African Americans to view cooperative economics as a promising antidote to persistent racial economic inequality (Gordon Nembhard 2004b).

In 1907 W.E. B. Du Bois wrote a monograph as part of his Atlanta University series on the Negro entitled, Economic Cooperation among Negro Americans (Du Bois 1907), after first exploring some of these issues in his 1898 volume, Some Efforts of American Negroes for their Own Social Betterment. Blacks pooled money in order to help each other buy themselves out of enslavement. In addition, runaway slaves formed their own communities, often isolated Maroons, where they eluded and/or fought off bounty hunters, and lived collective existence in relative isolation. Immediately after the Civil War, some Blacks organized themselves (or were organized) into intentional communities and communes, where they could live and develop under their own leadership, creating their own economy (Pease and Pease 1963; DeFilippis 2004).

Du Bois’ 1907 monograph is a comprehensive study of cooperative activities among African Americans from the 1800s to 1907. It is less a theoretical study of cooperative economic development and more an analysis of a variety of ways African Americans cooperate economically, and a listing of Black-owned cooperative businesses, organizations and projects. Du Bois explains that Blacks have pooled resources through churches, mutual aid societies, fraternal organizations, and jointly owned businesses.

Du Bois (1907) documented hundreds of mutual aid societies and cooperative projects through religious and benevolence institutions, beneficial and insurance societies, secret societies, schools, and financial institutions. Mutual Aid Societies and Beneficial Societies provided joint purchasing and marketing, revolving loan funds, and sickness, widow and orphan, and death benefits. They often operated informally through Black religious organizations and Black independent schools. Many were founded and headed by Black women. These were the precursors to the African American owned cooperatives.

Often white land lords, insurance agents, banks, and even the federal government created barriers to thwart the success of these businesses by raising the rent, refusing a line of credit, withdrawing an insurance policy, or even accusing the company of fraud. This would also happen with Black co-op businesses. (from th work of Jessica Nembhard




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