Business and Commerce

Consumer Cooperatives

What was the function of consumer cooperatives in the black community?

Consumer cooperatives have functioned as examples of self-help and demonstrate how people within the same community may work together for the common good. Evidence of cooperatives in the African-American community working with other nationalities was seen as early as the late 1800s. There were farmers in the Grange movement in the 1860s and 1870s; however, the economic conditions of the members made it difficult for the cooperatives to flourish. As early as 1917, W.E.B. Du Bois and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) encouraged blacks to form cooperatives. After World War I, consumer cooperatives in urban areas began to evolve. Union leader A. Philip Randolph also encouraged blacks in Harlem and elsewhere to form cooperatives, as did the Housewives League of Detroit. The latter organization also encouraged its members to buy from black-owned businesses. By 1935, in Gary, Indiana, there were 450 families in buying clubs. In the 1960s and 1970s, the idea of consumer cooperatives was revived and blacks in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn established a buying cooperative and used the profits to build social service programs, to bolster education, and to support health care in the African-American community.


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