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Collective Courage

A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice

By Jessica Gordon Nembhard

Publication Year: 2014

In Collective Courage, Jessica Gordon Nebhard chronicles African American cooperative business ownership and its place in the movements for Black civil rights and economic equality. Not since Du Bois’ 1907 Economic Cooperation among Negroes has there been a full-length, nation-wide study of African American cooperatives. Collective Courage extends that story into the twentieth century. Many of the players are well-known in the history of the African American experience: W. E. B. Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph and the Women’s Auxiliary of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Jo Baker, George Schuyler and the Young Negroes Cooperative League, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party. Adding the cooperative movement to Black history provides a retelling of the African American experience, with an increased understanding of African American collective economic agency and grassroots economic organizing. To tell the story, Gordon Nembhard pores over newspapers, period magazines and journals; co-ops’ articles of incorporation, minutes from annual meetings, newsletters, budgets and income statements; scholarly books, memoirs and biographies to reveal the achievements and challenges of Black co-ops, collective economic action, and social entrepreneurship. She also uses mixed methods economic analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, theoretical analysis and applied theory to understand the effectiveness of the particular practices and/or strategies documented. Themes of economic independence, the critical role of women and youth in the African American cooperative movement, and the use of cooperatives by Black organizations for community economic development are interwoven into a linear treatment of the development of cooperatives among African Americans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Gordon Nembhard finds that African Americans, as well as other people of color and low-income people, have benefitted greatly from cooperative ownership and democratic economic participation throughout the nation’s history.

Published by: Penn State University Press

Cover Front

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This has been more than a ten-year project and has taken up much of my academic career. Therefore, almost everyone in my life has had to hear about the book or wait on me while I reedited or submitted yet another version. Most of the public presentations I have made have been about the book, so many audiences have listened patiently as I talked about the project....

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Introduction: A Continuous and Hidden History of Economic Defense and Collective Well-Being

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pp. 1-26

African Americans have a long, rich history of cooperative ownership, especially in reaction to market failures and economic racial discrimination. However, it has often been a hidden history and one obstructed by White supremacist violence. When there is a narrative, the history is told as one of failure. Th e challenges have been tremendous, and have often been seen as...

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Part One: Early African American Cooperative Roots

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pp. 27-30

Early African American cooperative roots include collective benevolence, grassroots economic organizing, and cooperative agriculture. Part I of this book provides examples of many of the efforts at grassroots economic organizing and collective ownership among African Americans, starting from enslavement and focusing on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries....

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Chapter 1: Early Black Economic Cooperation: Intentional Communities, Communes, and Mutual Aid

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pp. 31-47

The history of African American cooperative economic activity begins with solidarity and collective action (economic and social) in the face of oppression, racial violence, discrimination, and sometimes betrayal. Even though separated from their clans and nations in Africa, enslaved as well as the few free African Americans continued African practices during the antebellum period—cooperating economically to till small garden plots to provide more...

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Chapter 2: From Economic Independence To Political Advocacy: Cooperation and the Nineteenth-Century Black Populist Movement

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pp. 48-59

The story of the African American cooperative movement in the United States is also a story of unionization, organized labor’s early efforts at cooperative development, and populism. The Cooperative Workers of America and the Knights of Labor, integrated unions operating in the South, supported small farmers, laborers, and the grassroots Black rural sector (Ali 2003, 44–45). The Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Co-operative Union continued...

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Chapter 3: Expanding the Tradition: Early African American–Owned “Cooperative” Businesses

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pp. 60-78

Cooperative businesses among African Americans developed slowly—often evolving from mutual-aid societies to mutual insurance companies and from joint-stock companies to Rochdale cooperatives—as African Americans became more sophisticated and experienced in cooperative ownership. W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1907 study in some ways lumps all efforts at economic cooperation together. In this chapter, I examine these businesses from the 1880s to the...

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Part Two: Deliberative Cooperative Economic Development

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pp. 79-84

In his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois predicted that race would haunt the twentieth century; he also predicted that the pursuit of individual economic advancement would hinder African American growth and development (Du Bois 1907). At his twelfth Atlanta conference, Du Bois proposed that African Americans would do better to engage in cooperative economics. Th at one of the research conferences of Du Bois’s famous Atlanta...

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Chapter 4: Strategy, Advocacy, and Practice: Black Study Circles and Co-op Education on the Front Lines

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pp. 85-111

Every African American-owned cooperative of the past that I have researched, and almost every contemporary cooperative I have studied, began as the result of a study group or depended on purposive training and orientation of members. The Consumers’ Cooperative Trading Company is one of the best examples in the United States of the importance of education and training and the ...

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Chapter 5: The Young Negroes’ Co-operative League

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pp. 112-125

The Young Negroes’ Co-operative League was established in December 1930. The YNCL is not usually mentioned among Black leaders, in Black history texts, or in African American scholarship in general, except in the comprehensive biographies of Ella Jo Baker (Grant 1998; Ransby 2003), who was its executive director. Its founder, George Schuyler, a journalist and satirist, was...

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Chapter 6: Out of Necessity: The Great Depression and “Consumers’ Cooperation Among Negroes”

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pp. 126-147

The African American cooperative movement in the 1930s was an especially active time for the discussion and creation of Black cooperative businesses. Scholars and activists alike were advocating the cooperative way and experimenting with co-op development. Interest in cooperative economics was so strong that the NAACP’s Crisis magazine, the...

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Chapter 7: Continuing the Legacy: Nannie Helen Burroughs, Halena Wilson, and the Role of Black Women

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pp. 148-171

“Women are members and men are full-time directors” (Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union 1999, 192). This belief has been the norm in the cooperative movement throughout the world. Many observers have noted that women belong to, use, and participate in cooperative enterprises for their own and their families’ benefi t, but tend not to be in control. The United...

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Chapter 8: Black Rural Cooperative Activity in the Early to Mid-Twentieth Century

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pp. 172-188

Black rural cooperative development in the early twentieth century continued the efforts of the nineteenth century. According to Curl (1980), during the Depression many small farmers, particularly Farmers’ Union members, turned to radical action. Frazier (1923) reports on cooperative marketing among Black farmers, particularly peanut growers in Texas. The activities of...

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Part Three: Twentieth-Century Practices, Twenty-First-Century Solutions

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pp. 189-192

In the transitions from enslavement to wage labor, from industrialization to the postindustrial information age, African American and other subaltern populations held little control over the economic processes of change, or the assets required for success.1 As a result, many subaltern communities are underdeveloped, marginalized, and underserved. Persuad and Lusane note...

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Chapter 9: The Federation of Southern Cooperatives: The Legacy Lives On

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pp. 193-212

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives was founded in 1967 to promote cooperative economic development as a strategy (and philosophy), to support and sustain Black farmer ownership and control over land, to support the economic viability of family and independent farm businesses—especially small, sustainable, and organic farms—and to advance the stewardship of Blackowned...

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Chapter 10: Economic Solidarity in the African American Cooperative Movement: Connections, Cohesiveness, and Leadership Development

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pp. 213-238

Almost all African American leaders and major thinkers, from the most conservative to the most radical, have at some point promoted cooperative economic development as a strategy for African American well-being and liberation. We have seen examples of how cooperative economic development provides economic stability, camaraderie, resource and profit sharing, education...

Time Line of African American Cooperative History, 1780–2012: Selected Events

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pp. 239-250


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pp. 251-262


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pp. 263-290


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pp. 291-311

Cover Back

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p. 312-312

E-ISBN-13: 9780271064260
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271062167
Print-ISBN-10: 0271062169

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 1 illustration
Publication Year: 2014