Dr E.E. Nelson: Founder of the Buffalo Cooperative Economic Society

Article excerpt

During the several decades following the "great migration" of Afro-Americans to the northern cities, the economic and social problems confronting northern black communities became more intense. In their quest to find solutions to those problems, and improve the quality of life in their communities, many northern black spokesmen concluded that racial solidarity and self-help offered the best hope. The belief in self-help and solidarity among northern blacks during that period drew inspiration from the legacy of Booker T. Washington and the preaching's of Marcus Garvey. Those ideas, coupled with the socialist influences of the depression years, contributed to a renewed interest in the formation of economic cooperatives in northern black communities.

In Buffalo, New York, the most dedicated advocate of black self-help and economic cooperation, during the depression and post-depression years, was Dr. Ezekiel E. Nelson--a local black physician. (1) For more than three decades (1928-1961) Dr. Nelson worked with an almost fanatical zeal to convince black Buffalonians that cooperative economics and racial solidarity would enable the race to escape from poverty and economic oppression. He preached that by working together, pooling their resources, and supporting their cooperative enterprises; blacks could build powerful economic institutions that would enable them to produce many of those goods and services that were needed and desired by the community. He believed that such enterprises would provide employment and income, which would enhance the ability of the community to improve its standard of living. The profits from such ventures were to be reinvested in the community, thus promoting further development and improvement. Such was his dream.

Dr. Nelson was not a native Buffalonian. He was born in Louisiana in 1881. Following his mother's death, when he was ten years old, young Nelson was sent to live with his aunt, and uncle who were sharecroppers. That family later moved to Texarkana, Arkansas where Nelson began his formal schooling at age fifteen. He completed all the grades in the local black school in four years.

Following his graduation from the Texarkana school, Nelson found employment with a local white family who, after recognizing that he was especially talented intellectually, urged him to continue his education. They pledged to assist him financially if he would enroll in the Tuskegee Institute. That school had already gained national recognition because of the work of its founder--Booker T. Washington. Nelson declined their offer because of a longstanding desire to attend Wilberforce University. In 1904, he left Arkansas and journeyed to Ohio where he enrolled at Wilberforce. Initially he enrolled in prep courses before moving into the regular college curriculum. While at Wilberforce Nelson met and courted his future wife--Miss Alberta F. O'Leary, an education major from Jacksonville, Illinois. It was during those years that he also decided to become a medical doctor.

Following his graduation from Wilberforce in 1911, Nelson entered the medical school at the University of Michigan. …