Magazine article New Internationalist

Of Caulkers and Quilt-Makers: Jessica Gordon Nembhard Tells the Little-Known Story of the Part Played by Co-Ops in Forwarding the Rights of African Americans

Magazine article New Internationalist

Of Caulkers and Quilt-Makers: Jessica Gordon Nembhard Tells the Little-Known Story of the Part Played by Co-Ops in Forwarding the Rights of African Americans

Article excerpt

THROUGHOUT his life, African American scholar WEB Du Bois proposed that African Americans should use 'intelligent co-operation' for 'the common good' and advocated for a Black co-operative 'group economy'. Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association at the turn of the 20th century espoused co-operative ideals for their businesses and supported a Pan-African co-operative trading network. The Young Negroes' Co-operative League in the 1930s, and the Federation of Southern Co-operatives since 1967, have brought African Americans together to support co-operative economic development.

African Americans, other people of colour and low-income people have seen many gains from co-operatives in the US:

- The Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company in Baltimore allowed African American caulkers and stevedores to protect their jobs, own their own company and escape discrimination from 1865 to 1883. They paid off their mortgage in five years and started to receive a stock dividend by the sixth year.

- The Consumers' Co-operative Trading Company in Gary operated in the 1930s. It began as a food-buying club in response to the lack of quality, affordable food during the Depression. The club became a main grocery store. Later the co-op added a branch store, a filling station and a credit union. It paid dividends and offered co-op education.

- The Apex Cab Co-operative in Milwaukee began in January 1973. Although it was short-lived, it showed that cab ownership was viable for African Americans. One of its competitive edges was that drivers were willing to take passengers to any part of the city, unlike white can drivers. Washington DC also had an African American-owned co-op cab company for several years.

- The Freedom Quilting Bee, a handicraft co-op in Alberta, Alabama was established in 1966 because share-cropping families needed a more stable income. The women began selling quilts after many of their families lost the farms because of their civil-rights activities. In 1968 the co-op bought land for a sewing plant and for families who had been evicted from their homes. By 1992 it was the largest employer in the town.

- The Federation of Southern Co-operatives/Land Assistance Fund is a network of rural co-ops (particularly farms, marketing boards and housing), credit unions and state associations. …

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