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Jessica Gordon Nembhard: Cooperative Economics and Civil Rights



Black people have been buying their freedom, often, collectively to escape enslavement. Pooling economic and non-economic resources together to solve personal, family, social, political and economic challenges. Racial solidarity became a major resource for these and future Black organizations and businesses. Collective economics activities such as pooling resources together to purchase freedom from plantation ”masters” often led to political activity such as public policy advocacy to counteract White Blocs and racist policies and racially discriminatory legislation. These interconnected strategies were used to maintain the independence needed to assert wholistic autonomy as human beings. Abolitionist organizing was used to deliberately establish Negro-organized communities and communes to house and teach Black people how to live as ”free people” and run independent communities.


Other self-emancipation strategies include buying their freedom, work slowdowns, creation of escape paths, and the formation of separate communities. These kinds of collective resistance measures proved necessary for Black liberation from all angles. The Underground Railroad was one of most prominent examples of high-level social and economic cooperation and collaboration among Black, white and Indigenous peoples. It linked independent Black communities to one another and connected fugitives from enslavement to Black-operated, racially integrated and other kinds of support systems. Maroon communities, mutual aid societies, Black churches are all part of the foundation of economic, and inevitably social and political cooperation, among Black communities.

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Black Agrarian Cooperatives Timeline.pptx

Participatory Historical Timeline_Lesson.docx

Theatrical script.docx

The long tradition of African American cooperation is not well known, and in her book Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, Jessica Gordon Nemhard sets out to remedy that gap in our knowledge. From mutual aid societies to independent fugitive communities and from farmer cooperatives to consumer co-ops, Professor Gordon Nemhard details how people work together in the face of racism and active sabotage to improve each others’ lives in tangible ways. Cooperation has proved a powerful tool against discrimination. In honor of Juneteenth and the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ll survey a small part of the rich cooperative history that Gordon Nemhard chronicles. 


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20th and 21st Centuries

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“Until the lion learns to roar, history will glorify the hunter.” - Chinua Achebe

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