Black Cooperative Economics During Enslavement

Initially, people pooled resources to buy each other’s freedom when we were enslaved. This was simple, but meaningful, as we didn’t own ourselves. Most people didn’t have a way to earn money, but sometimes there were skilled laborers who were allowed to earn a little extra money on a Sunday.  We have some records and some testimony of African-Americans who talk about saving that money – first buying themselves, then buying other family members, or contributing to helping someone buy themselves. Enslaved African Americans also gardened together on small plots of land in the slave quarters to add fresh vegetables to their meager rations.

After this, we became much more formal with  mutual aid societies, which are some of the earliest independent Black organizations. The first Black mutual aid society started in Newport, Rhode Island in 1780. Then, the Free African Society in Philadelphia – the same group that started the African Methodist Episcopal Church – was formed in 1787 as a mutual aid society.

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