Cooperatives have long been a component of Black survival and economic development in the United States. Sadly, however, far too many of our people think they are white, “hippy” or “bougie” organizations that don’t have anything to do with us. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Black Liberation Movement has utilized cooperatives and solidarity enterprises like mutual aid societies, credit unions and time banks to advance the struggle for self-determination and freedom for well over 200 years. Here are but a few examples of Black activists and organizations that have operated cooperatives over this time span.
1. The Free African Society. The Free African Society was one of the first mutual aid societies established by Black people in the United States. Mutual aid societies are autonomous institutions created to provide their members with the basic needs of everyday life — food, clothing, shelter, health care, burial insurance, etc. — as well as providing protection and sanctuary. The Free African Society was started by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones in Philadelphia in 1787. Allen and Jones later started the first Independent Black church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816.