The Time is Now

A Time of Crisis: W. E. B. Dubois calls for a Co-operative Economy 

In the September 1917 issue of The Crisis, W.E.B. Dubois, the founding editor, makes a call to the African American community to build a co-operative economy.* Dubois supported and promoted Cooperative Education and Development throughout his career. He often felt alone is his quest. His call was a response to a chain of events that took place the summer of 1917, and are recorded in the same issue.

On July 2, 1917, over 500 white people attacked the African American community in East Saint Louis, Illinois. They maimed, tortured, and killed men, women and children. They burned down the entire infrastructure of the community. W.E.B. Dubois and Martha Gruening went to East Saint Louis to cover the story in the aftermath of the devastation. The photographs and testimonials also published in The Crisis record the horrific violence, torture and total destruction wielded upon the African American community. The August 1917 issue, documents more details.

On July 28, 1917, over 1500 African American people held a silent march in New York City to stand up against the recent “race riots” in East Saint Louis, as well as other violent uprisings by white people in Waco, and Memphis. Dubois, was a participant in the march and was in awe at the numbers of people that came out to the peaceful protest. In his editorial he writes:

“Ten thousand of us marched the other day in New York City. Everbody said it could not be done. The ways were lined with rabbits, afraid even to walk for freedom, and yet, solemnly and simply, the Negroes of New York told the other citizens of New York their grief and resentment. That is but a little thing. We can do infinitely more. We can organize  for industrial co-operation and we can begin with co-operation in distribution. In every large city where 10,000 or more Negroes live, the business of buying groceries, food, clothing and fuel can by a single determined effort, be put into the hands of colored people. This kind of distribution has been successful all over the world. Little is said about it because the leeches that have fattened on retail trade are too powerful with the newspapers. Distribution of the necessities of life, can be easily done with a tremendous saving to the people and the employment of colored men and women. The only thing necessary is for us to start; and to start we simply require that the same spirit of devotion and sacrifice, coupled with brains and training, that has sent young men and women to the ministry and the Y.M.C.A and Y.W.C.A work should be turned now among us Negroes and be put into business.

White people are not in business for their health. We should be in business for our health and for the health of the world”.  W.E.B. Dubois, 1917

*The Crisis is the magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP, still in publication today.

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