Business and Commerce

Consumer Cooperatives

How did the Colored Merchants’ Association function?

A movement in early twentieth century black America that fostered black economic development included a number of cooperatives such as shoe stores, department stores, grocery stores, and various retail establishments. Notable among these cooperatives was the Colored Merchants’ Association (CMA), founded by grocer A. B. Brown in Montgomery, Alabama, on August 10, 1928. The cooperative comprised a voluntary chain of twelve members who operated their grocery stores as “C.M.A.” stores. Soon the organization spread to other states; the members relied on cooperative buying and intensive selling. They did cooperative advertising, promoted quick selling to move their merchandise, and from time to time offered special bargain prices. In November 1928, Albon L. Holsey, a key staff member at nearby Tuskegee Institute, and a leader of the National Negro Business League (NNBL), was named national secretary of the CMA. Under Holsey’s leadership, ties to the NNBL were strengthened and more stores were quickly added in major cities throughout the country. One successful experiment was seen in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where the local black college, Winston-Salem Teachers College (as it was called then), aided in the development of a local store and set up a model store. In October 1929, the organization established its national quarters in New York City and Holsey continued his leadership. The organization declined in the 1930s, partially because of the Great Depression, internal dissention, and a desire to advertise or sell brands other than those of the CMA. Before long, the rapidity with which the stores were developed was seen also in their demise. However, for many years the CMA was a successful experiment in black self-help.


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