In light of incidents that have occurred in Asian communities and grocery stores we continue to stand in solidarity against racism, intolerance, and injustice, and work to create a better, safer, more equitable world for all.
March is Women's History Month, so let's take a look at a couple of inspirational women in Co-op history! The following was written by Board Member Celeste! Thanks, Celeste!
"During the month of March, Women’s History Month, we remember and salute the many women who have stepped forward for justice, equity and freedom from oppression.
I thought it especially important to remark on Ella Baker and Fannie Lou Hamer, who were both influential in establishing Co-ops in their time.
This facet of African American history, including the history of Mutual Aid societies and the spread of the Rochdale Principles (a set of ideals for the operation of cooperatives, set out in 1844), is rarely taught or remembered.
Ella Josephine Baker (1903-1986) joined and became the executive director of the Young Negroes Cooperative League. The YNCL was a co-op that taught young leaders history and the Rochdale method of cooperation.
Baker traveled to various communities to study the economic issues and introduced the cooperative concept for each community to develop by example their own local co-op. Baker’s leadership kept women’s issues at the forefront as well, emphasizing to her audiences, listeners and readers that “We seek to bring women into the League on an equal basis with men…”.
The cooperative principles she learned and employed made her a great organizer throughout her life. Baker’s commitment to economic justice for all people inspired her generation through her further work for civil rights with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
She earned the nickname “Fundi” which is Swahili for “one who teaches a craft to the next generation”. Indeed, Ella Baker’s legacy should be taught and remembered.
Another Female African American woman striving towards cooperative pricnciples was Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was an extraordinary woman of many strengths. She fought hard to exercise her right to vote in rural Mississippi. As the daughter and wife of sharecroppers she realized the importance of farming one’s own land to better the lives of her family and community.
As one of the founders of the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Mississippi, Hamer’s leadership helped Black farmers purchase land and earn a way out of poverty. She said, “Cooperative ownership of land opens the door to many opportunities for group development of economic enterprises which develop the total community rather than create monopolies that monopolize the resources of a community.”
In its first year with their initial forty acres, Freedom Farms raised enough food for 250 families and donated surplus vegetables to needy families elsewhere.
Hamer was also the co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which advocated for voting rights and political initiatives to work towards sustainability and social justice. Her strategies included speeches, congressional hearings, conferences and national television appearances.
Fannie Lou Hamer believed in economic independence through cooperation as necessary for reaching ultimate freedom."
Thank you to these 2 women and the many others who have fought towards women's rights and the education of cooperatives and their concepts to others.