The cooperative movement in America would not be the same without Black Americans. Cooperative economics can be seen all the way back to the time of slavery. It was used by African Americans to create opportunity for themselves as the main economic system did not operate with their success in mind. Cooperatives are built to create economic opportunity, equity and inclusion for all members. Cooperatives allow members to have an opportunity to gain capital, especially for groups that are often underrepresented.
Cooperative economics gives those involved agency over their future prospects. It is important to remember history and the crucial contributions of Black Americans like W.E.B Du Bois, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker and so many more unnamed pioneers, to the co-op world as it provides a lesson of how we can continue to help other underrepresented communities to prosper.
In the book, Collective Courage: A History of African American Economic Thought, Nembhard details the history of Black Americans in cooperatives and the importance of embracing this type of economic participation. Cooperatives create opportunities for marginalized communities to gain economic power through collective action; collective action that, in this instance, was propelled to create racial solidarity and economic cooperation in response to discrimination and marginalization. Examples of early cooperative economics in the Black community included the sharing of farm equipment which had a high investment point, pooling money for loans that communities of color were left out of, and mutual aid societies to assist with funeral costs, medical bills for the sick, and so on.
These early informal examples of cooperation grew into large successful operations like the Colored Farmers’ National Alliance and Co-operative Union, The Citizens Co-operative Stores, The Federation of Southern Cooperatives as well as so many others. By 1907, W.E.B. DuBois noted there were already 154 successful Black cooperatives in the US. and today the ripples of their success can be seen all throughout our country in the foundations of many communities.
Pachamama Coffee was founded on the same principles and foundations of community needs. Disenfranchised farmers around the world seek a path to gain economic capital in the coffee industry and, by working together as one, Pachamama farmers can do just that. By remembering the history of cooperatives and the principles they were founded on, as well as actively seeking to support these kinds of business models that work towards equality and inclusivity, we can continue to create a more just and equitable world for all people.
If you’d like to learn more about this history and the power of cooperative economics for communities, this blog post by NCBA CLUSA highlights ongoing conversations centering around diversity, inclusion and lifting up voices of black cooperators
Also check out this interview with Jessica Gordon Nembhard:
and this panel discussion “The Power of Co-Op Ownership in the Black Community” hosted by NCBA CLUSA here: