Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics or Business Mutuality

Tulsa, Okalahoma 1919J.B. Stradford, a successful Black business man in the beginning of the 20th century, once said “Black people had a better chance of economic progress if they pooled their resources, worked together, and supported each other’s businesses.” Stradford was a successful realtor and business owner in the Greenwood area of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Stradford along with O.W. Gurley, a resigned politician and avant economic strategist, had pioneered the economic development of the Black community of Tulsa. They would make way for thousands of Black migrants to find not only refuge from harsh racist conditions of Mississippi and Alabama, but also accessibility to define financial prosperity for established families. Within the first two decades of the 20th century, Black financial landscape in Greenwood – Tulsa Oklahoma would rise to eclipse the impoverished dynamics that slavery and Jim Crow segregation had established. Get this, the “negro dollar was will fully transacted with negro business because it meant the survival of a people”, according to Gurley in conversation with W.E.B. Dubois. Despite segregation’s harsh restriction, this statement articulates the active principle of Karenga’s cooperative economics; the idea that Black people supported their own business primarily for the purpose of economic strength. Greenwood – Tulsa at the time was coined the “Negro Wall Street” (later Black Wall Street) for the fact that by 1920 it was home to 35 churches, 40 unique restaurants, 40 grocery stores, a post office, two hospitals, two national publications, numerous schools, a bank, a dozen law offices, and two libraries; 98% Black owned. Greenwood – Tulsa was resident to the handful of concentrated Black multimillionaires of that time.

A serious lesson of clarity that Karenga illustrates in this principle is not only the value of patronizing Black businesses and organizations, but also the importance of Black enterprises’ OBLIGATION TO SUPPORT THE ENTIRE COMMUNITY. Cooperative economics is a mutual exchange between the Black consumer and Black business, both depending on the vitality of each other. This was an essential element in Greenwood – Tulsa, articulated from Gurley and Stradford, and evident in its economic prosperity of the people. Was everyone in 1920 Greenwood – Tulsa economically well off? Of course not. However, the model represented the economic formula and value that spoke to the social responsibility of every Black person regardless of their financial status. If we use Greenwood – Tulsa, Oklahoma as a measuring stick to examine current Black economic value and strategy….well, I will let you make that judgement call!Tulsa Okalahoma 1920

SIDE NOTE: Because of its Black economic resilience in the heart of the Jim Crow south, white-supremacy violently destroyed Greenwood – Tulsa in 1921 during a mob attack on the district which researchers argue was a strategic plot of many political partners within the government.

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