History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice

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  • Book: Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. By Jessica Gordon Nembhard. Penn State University Press,

URL = http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-06216-7.html


From the publisher:

"In Collective Courage, Jessica Gordon Nembhard chronicles African American cooperative business ownership and its place in the movements for Black civil rights and economic equality. Not since W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1907 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans has there been a full-length, nationwide study of African American cooperatives. Collective Courage extends that story into the twenty-first century. Many of the players are well known in the history of the African American experience: Du Bois, A. Philip Randolph and the Ladies' Auxiliary to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Jo Baker, George Schuyler and the Young Negroes’ Co-operative League, the Nation of Islam, and the Black Panther Party. Adding the cooperative movement to Black history results in 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 uses a variety of newspapers, period magazines, and journals; co-ops’ articles of incorporation, minutes from annual meetings, newsletters, budgets, and income statements; and scholarly books, memoirs, and biographies. These sources reveal the achievements and challenges of Black co-ops, collective economic action, and social entrepreneurship. 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."


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

Part I: Early African American Cooperative Roots

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

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

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

Part II: Deliberative Cooperative Economic Development

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

5 The Young Negroes’ Co-operative League

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

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

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

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

9 The Federation of Southern Cooperatives: The Legacy Lives On

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

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


Patrick Mason:

“Collective Courage makes a very strong case for the historical and continuing importance of cooperatives as a strategy for African American economic, social, and political development. Given the emphasis on pooled resources, cooperative economic development is an approach that gets around the constraints of limited wealth among African American individuals and families. Moreover, this volume clearly demonstrates that cooperatives have ‘joint outputs’—that is, in addition to producing a particular good or service, a cooperative frequently produces other valuable social services, civic involvement, leadership development, and managerial expertise that is transferable to activities beyond the particular cooperative enterprise. Jessica Gordon Nembhard concludes that cooperatives have been successful in the past and also present the opportunity for expanded self-reliance in the future.

“The originality of this book is substantial. I am unaware of any similar work. This volume shows that Gordon Nembhard is a leading scholar on the role of cooperative economic development activities among African Americans. This well-organized text will be useful to general interest readers, undergraduate and graduate students, policy makers, and practitioners.”