5 Historic Examples of Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa) That Advanced The Black Community

Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA)

In 1914 Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the largest movement across territorial borders among the African peoples during the 20th century. By the early 1920s the UNIA could count branches in almost every Caribbean, Latin America, and sub-Saharan African country with membership swelling to 8 million. Under Garvey’s leadership, the UNIA encouraged entrepreneurship, attracted millions of Black people to buying from Black-owned business.

Established in 1919,  the Negro Factories Corporation, one of the UNIA’s ventures, with a capitalization of $1 million, sought to build and operate factories in the big industrial centers of the United States, Central America, the West Indies and Africa.  It generated income and provided about 700 jobs by its numerous enterprises: three grocery stores, two restaurants, a laundry, a tailor shop, a dress-making shop, a millinery store, a printing company and doll factory.

Incorporated in Delaware as a domestic corporation on June 27, 1919, the Black Star Line Inc. was capitalized at $10 million. It sold shares individually valued at $5 to both UNIA members and non-members alike. Proceeds from stock sales were used to purchase ships to facilitate the transportation of goods and eventually African Americans throughout the African global economy.

Colored Merchants’ Association

In 1928, the National Negro Business League of  Montgomery, Ala., established the Colored Merchants’ Association (CMA), a cooperative organization of Black grocery stores. The purpose of the organization was to reduce the operating costs of Black retailers through mutual support, cooperative buying, and collective marketing — in a harsh market dominated by White-owned chain stores. The CMA model was markedly successful. Associated stores reported increases in business and profits.

The association spread to nearly 18 cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Nashville, Dallas and New York. The CMA built its national headquarters in New York City in October 1929. Chapters were organized in cities with 10 or more stores. CMA members paid $5 per month per store and were required to meet designated standards. By 1930, 253 stores were part of the CMA network.

Members received support services from the association, such as intensive training in merchandising techniques, sales training, advertising, and management resources such as market analysis, inventory and bookkeeping systems, and collection and credit procedures.

Federation of Southern Cooperatives

Federation of Southern Cooperatives was a nonprofit organization of state associations founded in 1967 in Atlanta for the purpose of supporting predominantly Black cooperatives in southern states. The organization later merged with the Land Emergency Fund to become the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund.

Member cooperatives engage in organic farming, marketing, agricultural processing, fishing, sewing, handicrafts, land buying, grocery cooperatives, and credit unions. The organization established six state offices and a rural training and research center. It also engages in state and federal policy advocacy and provides technical assistance to protect Black-owned land and maintain Black land ownership, as well as promotes sustainable family farming and cooperative development.

The Federation also provides emergency services to its members during times of natural disaster. In its 45-year history, the organization has helped to create and/or support more than 200 cooperatives and credit unions mostly in the 11 states where it operates (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and the Virgin Islands).

The Federation owns and runs a rural training and research center in Epes, Ala., that showcases sustainable forestry, provides co-op education, and helps to develop Black youth-run co-ops (such as Sankofa Youth Cooperative). Its headquarters is in East Point, Ga. The FSC/LAF also engages in cooperative development in Africa and the Caribbean.

by A Moore


9 Things Verifying That European And American Economic Success Came From Slavery

Without the significant labor to cultivate the land Europeans claimed to have “discovered,” it would have been for naught. The notion of Europeans or Native Americans working the land was not seriously considered. It was the enslaved Africans who were put to work to grow the abundant land into livable housing, farms and other businesses.

1. The Enslaved Were an ‘Investment’

To get an idea of how valued and valuable to the economy the enslaved were, each one represented as much as $130,000 in today’s prices when the South seceded from the Union. Significantly, this was two times as much from 14 years before — a true measure of the impact of the enslaved and the increased demand in the marketplace. According to economists, this alone would crystalize how “investing” in an enslaved person was a money-maker that drove business.

2. Slave Traders Amassed a Fortune Off Black Bodies

According to a BBC report, between 1761 and 1808, British traders hauled across the Atlantic 1,428,000 African captives and pocketed $94.4 million – perhaps $10 billion in today’s money – from slave sales.

3. Cotton Drove U.S. Economic Growth

According to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, cotton provided over half of all U.S. export earnings. By 1840, the South grew 60 percent of the world’s cotton and provided some 70 percent of the cotton used by the British textile industry. Thus, according to the institute, slavery paid for a substantial share of the capital, iron and manufactured goods that laid the basis for American economic growth.

4. Enslaved Africans Represented a Significant Amount of Wealth in the Southern U.S.

When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — which freed enslaved Africans only in the rebellious states and territories of the U.S. — approximately $10 trillion in today’s money was eliminated from the American economy with a stroke of his pen, according to MeasuringWorth.com. The so-called three-fifths compromise in the U.S. Constitution allowed the Southern states to count enslaved people as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of calculating states’ representation in the U.S. Congress. And so, the balance of power between slaveholding and non-slaveholding states turned, in part, on the three-fifths presence of enslaved Africans in the census. Slaveholders were taxed on the same three-fifths principle. Taxes paid on the enslaved supported the national treasury. So, the slavery system in the United States was a national system that touched the very core of its economic and political life.

5. City Work

Enslaved Africans also worked in urban areas, helping build them up. About 10 percent of the enslaved African population in the United States lived in cities like Charleston, South Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; Savannah, Georgia; Mobile, Alabama; New York; Philadelphia and New Orleans. All had sizable enslaved populations. In the Southern cities, they totaled approximately a third of the population, meaning they had the numbers to produce lots of work.

6. Value Based on Skills

The scope of jobs the enslaved were forced to do was vast and their value was based on their skills. They were domestics, but also fishermen, coopers, draymen, sailors, masons, bricklayers, blacksmiths, bakers, tailors, peddlers, painters and porters. Some were hired out to work as skilled laborers on plantations, on public works projects and in industrial enterprises. And even a small number of the enslaved hired themselves out and paid their owners a percentage of their earnings. According to MeasuringWorth.com, a premium was paid if the slave was an artisan — particularly a blacksmith (+55%), a carpenter (+45%), a cook (+20%) or possessed other domestic skills (+15%). On the other hand, an enslaved person’s price was discounted if the person was known to be a runaway (-60%), was disabled (-60%), had a vice such as drinking (-50%) or was physically impaired (-30%).

7. Global Demand for Cotton

Enslaved workers’ production in cotton was the backbone of the American financial and shipping industries. Same for the British textile industry. Cotton was not shipped directly to Europe from the South. It actually was shipped to New York and then transshipped to England and other centers of cotton manufacturing in the United States and Europe. After the “Panic of 1837,” there was a long depression, according to MeasuringWealth.com. Finally, the almost three-fold increase in prices after 1843 can be explained by several factors, including the rapid increase in the worldwide demand for cotton and increased productivity in the New South attributable to better soil and improvements in the cotton plant. It is clear during this time that the market for enslaved Blacks was active, and they were regarded as more valuable.

8. Bank Profits

Banks and financial institutions benefited by making loans or investments in the cotton plantation businesses, spurring more business and more money for the banks and plantation owners. The economic power of owning one enslaved person was much higher earlier in the century — as high as $8 million. This finding, according to MeasuringWorth.com, is consistent with the history of the period when Southern states exercised great influence on such issues as tariffs, banking and new areas of the country that would allow slavery. The “power measure” of owning a single person declined as time moved on because industrialization and agriculture in the North grew faster than the slave economy.

9. Collateral and Taxation

The actual collection and selling of enslaved Africans represented legal property — a commodity worth at least $400 at the time or $12,000 today. Individually and collectively, they were frequently used as collateral in all kinds of business transactions. They were also traded for other kinds of goods and services. In many cases, the enslaved were used to pay off debts held by the owner. The estimated value of the enslaved was calculated in the value of estates, becoming a tax revenue source for local and state governments. There were also taxes to be paid on slave transactions.