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Black History Month #14 - Greenbelt Women Visit Nannie Helen Burroughs' Cooperative in D.C.

Nannie Helen Burroughs

Did you know that there was a thriving black cooperative movement in Washington DC in the late 1930’s? The woman at the center of this movement was pioneering educator and businesswoman Nannie Helen Burroughs. She founded two prominent cooperatives in Washington: Cooperated Industries, Inc. and the National Training Center for Women and Girls, both in the 1930’s.

Cooperative Industries, Inc., was a self-help, agricultural and consumer cooperative founded in 1936 to help Washington D.C.’s black community during the Great Depression. Nannie Helen Burroughs was an African-American educator and businesswoman who firmly believed that cooperatives offered Black communities a viable alternative to the hardships of the great depression.

Cooperativism, likewise, was one of the founding principles of Greenbelt, and its early residents were selected to live in Greenbelt based on their willingness to participate in a cooperative community. The women of Greenbelt threw themselves into this effort by incorporating cooperative purchasing into their roles as homemakers. One way they did this was by forming a chapter of the Better Buyers Club, an organization of housewives who, through food testing and price monitoring, ensured the quality of products sold in their cooperative grocery store. The reputation of Nannie Helen Burroughs and her Cooperative Industries had reached the ears of the members of the Better Buyers Club, who decided to pay a visit in February of 1939.

The Greenbelt Cooperator reported on the visit, providing us with a record of this rather extraordinary meeting between black and white women interested in bettering their societies through cooperative enterprise. Ms. Burroughs herself welcomed the Greenbelt housewives and talked extensively about the work being done at the “Negro cooperative.” The group of women from Greenbelt came away from their tour impressed by how Cooperative Industries, Inc was helping their community through cooperative business and ideas.

Nannie Helen Burroughts at her Coop. Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

Read the entire article in the February 9, 1939 issue of the Cooperator here:

Or here:

Many thanks to Stephen Oetken for this post!

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