Social Justice Committee

The River Valley Co-op Social Justice Committee is a staff-driven group promoting positive social change and working to make our co-op more equitable and inclusive for all.

John Lewis: Chronology of his Co-op Chapter

by David J Thompson

Civil Rights Leader John Lewis in 1964 (left) and as GA Rep. John Lewis in his 2006 Congressional portrait (right)

John Lewis, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, died at 80 years old on July 17, 2020. He will be remembered for a lifetime of commitment to fighting for the poor and minorities as well as his dedication to the American Civil Rights Movement. On March 7, 1965, John Lewis was brutally attacked as he and other civil rights leaders crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, marching toward the State Capitol in Selma, Alabama. That event stands out as one of the most oft-repeated nationally known pictures of overt violent racism. He bore the scars of his fractured skull for his entire life - as does America. In fact, all Americans bear the historical pain of that attack.

I first met John in 1980, when the National Consumer Cooperative Bank (NCCB) brought him on board to spread the word about cooperatives to Black leaders and communities. I was tasked with arranging John’s meetings throughout the USA and traveling with him throughout California. He was soft-spoken, a good listener and uniquely humble in everything he did. What a wonderful, memorable journey that was for me.

The last time I saw John was on May 5, 2010. I was being inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame that night and our daughter Hatley was going to Birmingham Southern College in Birmingham, Alabama, that fall. John’s message to my family and his photograph with us are appended to this article.

I thought we’d have about 10-15 minutes with John, but he gave us over an hour in order to talk with Hatley about the South, his life with cooperatives, and to share some of his stories about the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, as well as to congratulate me on my award.

John Lewis leads marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL (1965).

That afternoon, John told us the soul-stirring story of personally forgiving the White Police Officer who bludgeoned him on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The officer was dying of cancer and wanted to apologize for his actions and to be forgiven. John and the former officer had talked and then prayed together in the same room that we were in.

John Lewis will long be remembered for the person he was and the passions he held. Many will write of his character, his contribution to building a better America and his selfless willingness to push for and pursue change. He deserves every accolade and award he earned, for he represents the best of America. He saw the future of our nation and did all he could to lead us there. I will let others more capable than me sing his praises for a lifetime of service and good deeds.

What I want to focus on is John Lewis’ support for cooperatives. Throughout his years of public service, John always wanted cooperatives to build a better, fairer, and more diverse and equitable America. Here is a short chronology of John’s lifetime commitment to and engagement with cooperatives.

1958. John attends the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. In his autobiography, “Walking With The Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,” John writes that before going to Highlander, he knew a lot about the uniquely inter-racial Highlander Folk School and its lonely, brave work striving for social justice in the South led by its co-founders Myles Horton & Don West. At that time, Highlander itself was a cooperative and taught its attendees about the development and use of cooperatives.

John wrote, “In fact, the single person who most impressed me that weekend was a woman – a sixty-year-old organizer named Septima Clark“. On John’s Island, South Carolina, Clark worked with Esau Jenkins on teaching Blacks on the island how to pass the rigid tests used to prevent Blacks from obtaining the right to vote. This voter education was all done secretly in the backroom of a food co-op that Esau and other Black islanders had set up to help themselves. The program that started in the island’s little co-op store called “The Progressive Club” would go on to become the Citizenship School Program whose 900 schools registered millions of Blacks to vote in the South for the first time in their lives.

So, at the age of eighteen, John Lewis first came to understand the potential role of cooperatives. Rosa Parks had similarly attended Highlander in 1955 and had been impacted by Septima Clark as well. Rosa Parks later said, “I was 42 years old and it was one of the few times in my life up to that point when I did not feel any hostility from white people... I felt that I could express myself honestly without any repercussions or antagonistic attitudes from other people—it was hard to leave.” But she did, and only months later, with her new-found confidence, she refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

At Highlander, John heard Guy Carawan sing the re-worded hymn, “We Shall Overcome,” first created by Black composer Charles Tindley. It was also at Highlander that John told me (in 2010) he first sat down for a meal at the same table with White people. It would be a seminal moment. In his book, “Walking with the Wind”, John wrote, “Of course, I left Highlander on fire. That was the purpose of the place, to light fires, and to refuel those whose fires were already lit."

1958. John attends a meeting at Spellman College in Atlanta on “Nonviolent Resistance to Segregation.” There, John was introduced to Bayard Rustin, who taught John about the long history of pacifist resistance. Rustin had already taught the same tactics to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. to use in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Bayard Rustin went on to organize the 1963 “March on Washington” from his apartment in a union-sponsored housing co-op in NYC.

At the same Spellman gathering, John met and was impacted by Ella Baker, who, by my account, is the most unsung woman in the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. In the 1930s, Ella had become the National Director of the Young Negroes Cooperative League and was developing other cooperatives in Harlem and New York City. She taught a young civil rights activist Bob Moses about co-ops. She was then hired by the NAACP to teach about cooperatives throughout the country. Ella also attended meetings organized by the Cooperative League of the USA (Now NCCBA). Ella was the first staff member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to work for Martin Luther King, Jr. Ella also wanted to lend her organizing skills to the young activists and volunteered to become the first staff member of the Southern Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

1963 - 1964. John was elected Chairman of SNCC and in that role he was one of the “Big Six” who represented the organizers of “The March on Washington.” The other five members were: James Farmer, head of the Congress on Racial Equality, CORE. (Farmer lived at the Chatham Green Co-op in NYC, which had been sponsored by credit unions); Martin Luther King, Jr. (lifetime supporter of co-ops), A. Philip Randolph (writer about cooperatives, first lived in the Dunbar Apartments, the first housing co-op for Blacks in NYC, and later lived in Penn South Co-op, NYC until he died); Roy Wilkins, Executive Director of the NAACP (who later joined the Parkway Village Housing Co-op in NYC);  and Whitney Young (President of the Urban League, which organized housing and other co-ops).

Bayard Rustin was appointed as organizer of the “March on Washington.” At his co-op apartment in Penn South, Bayard hosted the first meeting of the group that would go on to organize the “March on Washington.” Rachelle Horowitz and Tom Kahn, who also lived at the same Penn South housing co-op, were key members of the “March” staff. Norm Hill, who also attended the first meeting and worked on the March, later moved to the co-op, and still lives there today.

During 1963, Rachelle put up lots of “March” volunteers at her Penn South Co-op apartment. Among them, in particular, were Eleanor Holmes (today the non-voting Congress member for Washington, DC) and civil rights activists and sisters, Joyce and Dorie Ladner. In “Walking With the Wind,” John wrote about being in NYC just before the March and having Joyce Ladner, Tom Kahn and Eleanor Norton read over his controversial speech. John’s speech would end up being the most contentious one of the day. Roy Wilkins wanted it to be left out of the program and others threatened to boycott the event if it were not read.

Rachelle told me in an interview that the hotel in NYC where John was staying had thin walls and John was practicing his speech there too loudly. The hotel manager asked John to practice his speech elsewhere or be evicted from the hotel. John asked Rachel if he could come over to her apartment at the co-op to practice it. Rachel figured that the co-op’s thick brick walls would make a good sound curtain. Dorie, Joyce, and Eleanor were staying there, too, but after hearing endless forceful renditions of the speech the women eventually had to kick John out. A few days later, 23-year-old John Lewis gave his speech to the nation from in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

John Lewis delivers his speech at the 1963 March on Washington (Image: TIME Magazine)

A couple of nights before, Rachelle had the job of also kicking out Bob Dylan. Dylan had come over to her co-op apartment to practice the songs he was doing for the March. Dylan had an additional motive, he wanted to serenade Dorie Ladner for as long as Dorie would allow. He would sing song after song to Dorie until Rachelle told him it was late, and he needed to leave as the four women had work to do tomorrow. He left reluctantly but “The Woman in Jackson” that, ‘I love her just the same” in Dylan’s “Outlaw Blues” is assumed to be Dorie Ladner.

1967. In his book, “Walking With The Wind,” John wrote about going to work for the Southern Regional Council (SRC) in Atlanta, GA, where he was made Director of the SRC’s Community Organization Project. John’s task was to establish cooperatives, credit unions and community development groups in the Deep South. In “Walking With The Wind,” John wrote about his work for the SRC, “This was hands-on work, and I loved it. I felt at home again, literally."

1978. John is appointed by President Carter as the associate director of ACTION under Sam Brown (at one time also a board member of the NCCB). John’s staff included 125 people in ten regional offices. The staff oversaw 5,000 Vista volunteers and over 230,000 elderly volunteers. “We tried to help them through a range of programs similar to those I had directed with the Southern Regional Council… We helped form cooperatives in rural communities."

1980. John goes to work for the National Consumer Cooperative Bank (NCCB) as Community Relations Director. NCCB President, Carol Greenwald, asks me to arrange tours of Black communities in the US where John could speak about the bank and its nonprofit arm as resources for cooperatives in Black communities. I had the honor of being on a two-week tour of California with John. Among those with whom we met were: Mayor Tom Bradley (LA); Mayor Willie Brown (SF); Assembly Member now Congress Member Maxine Waters; and State Senator Diane Watson. These Black leaders were all excited to see John and eagerly listened to the cooperative opportunities provided by the NCCB and its nonprofit arm. Bradley and Brown both later gave help to food co-ops assisted by the NCCB’s nonprofit arm.

1988. My wife Ann and I had hosted Eldridge Mathebula, a visitor from South Africa, whose organization, The Black Consumers Union, wanted to develop co-ops for Blacks in South Africa. At that time, however, under apartheid, only whites could develop and operate cooperatives in South Africa. Eldridge’s organization invited me to South Africa to give talks on what types of co-ops could be organized and to work with South African governmental agencies on a pathway to legalize co-ops for Blacks. At the time, there was an international boycott of South Africa which I did not want to break. John, by that time, was a Congress Member representing Atlanta. I called him, made an appointment, and met with him in his office in DC. I laid out the pros and cons of going to South Africa and basically asked him to give me his judgment on whether I should go. In the end, John felt I should certainly should. In his opinion, the opportunity was there to instigate Black cooperatives as democratically run organizations. In a nation that disallowed Blacks from voting and political power cooperatives could be a nonviolent way to build a new society. In 1989, the Black Consumers’ Union registered the first Black cooperative in South Africa.

Throughout this time, John was a good friend and champion of the Atlanta-based, Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC). He spoke at FSC’s 50th Anniversary in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2017. The National Cooperative Business Association reported: “During a stirring speech at the awards ceremony, prominent civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) called cooperatives a ‘key strategy’ in the Civil Rights Movement. Echoing Martin Luther King, Jr., Lewis urged audience members to keep their ‘eyes on the prize’ of achieving true and lasting equality, despite setbacks."

2010. Ann, I, our daughter Hatley, my mother-in-law, Audrey Lippman, and my business partner at Neighborhood Partners, LLC, Luke Watkins, met with John in his DC office. We talked about co-ops, the needs of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, the role of the now-named National Cooperative Bank, and in particular its nonprofit arm then named the NCB Development Corporation. John had heard from several Southern and minority cooperatives that the NCBDC* was no longer very active in their world. He was disappointed that the NCBDC was not doing enough for Blacks but hoped they might return to keeping the promises they had made in 1980 that he had carried to Black America. John always believed in redemption just as he did in cooperatives.

We have surely lost a Champion but honor a Giant. He was the son of a sharecropper who then shaped our conscious and our nation. We have a moment now in which to reflect on the unique opportunity John has given us to re-direct ourselves to the cooperative world that John Lewis wished us to create. It is time for cooperators to return to making “Good Trouble."

Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome, someday.

David J. Thompson is a frequent writer on co-ops in the USA. He was born into a co-op family in Blackpool, Lancashire and immigrated to the US in 1962.  He is author of “Weavers of Dreams: Founders of the Modern Cooperative Movement” and other books and over 400 articles on cooperatives. He is President of the Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation and was the first co-op employee of the National Cooperative Bank. For a short time, he was interim Director of the NCCB’s Office of Self Help. David was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame in 2010. David is writing a book on “Cooperatives Against Slavery and For Civil Rights.”

* “The National Consumer Cooperative Bank Act (1978) established the Office of Self-Help Development and Technical Assistance within the bank. Cooperatives that are eligible to receive assistance from the bank may be eligible to qualify for financial and technical assistance from the office. The office may provide financial assistance to newly developed or established cooperatives that cannot qualify for a bank loan, or when the membership of the cooperative consists substantially of low-income persons or it provides services to low-income persons.”

*NCBDC (initially called The Office of Self-Help Development and Technical Assistance) has now legally separated from the National Cooperative Bank (NCB) and is called Capital Impact.

Read more: National Cooperative Bank - Act, Cooperatives, Eligible, and Consumer - JRank Articles 

Racial Redlining Fought by Post-war Interracial Co-ops

by David J Thompson


Levittown on Long Island in New York State is regarded as America’s first modern planned suburb. Built to accommodate returning World War II veterans, Levittown opened its doors on October 1, 1947. When complete, Levittown had 17,447 homes with a population of over 50,000. Levittown became the poster child of the postwar USA and was featured proudly and prominently in mainstream magazines such as LifeLook, and Fortune. To many among a war-weary public, Levittown exuded everything associated with living the American Dream. There was however one American element nowhere to be found in any of the 17,447 homes in Levittown—a Black family.

Blacks and whites had fought together in brotherhood all over the globe during World War II to defend democracy. However, a grateful government that welcomed home “the Greatest Generation” but fought that war with a segregated army had no desire to let returning Black soldiers live together with white ones. Fascism had been beaten abroad, but not racism at home.

Levittown was the direct creation of US government policy. The purchase of every single home in Levittown was insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Every Levittown homeowner’s contract barred buyers who were “not member(s) of the Caucasian race.” Thousands lined up to apply for America’s most publicized low-cost home ownership opportunity, but any Black people who turned up were turned away. The American future was bright for some, but due to racial covenants, it was legally off-limits to Black Americans.

In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kramer that racially restrictive covenants were unenforceable. Thurgood Marshall, then legal counsel for the National Association for (NAACP), submitted a brief in the landmark case on housing discrimination. Levittown removed the offending language from its contracts, but the FHA continued to insure loans only to whites who wanted to buy homes in Levittown. William “Bill” Levitt remarked at the time, “We can solve a housing problem, or we can try to solve a racial problem. But we cannot combine the two."

In 1950, Eugene Burnett, a Black former G.I., drove from his rental in the Bronx to Levittown to get in line for an application for ownership, but was told by a salesman, “It’s not me, but the owners of this development have not yet decided to sell to Negroes.” Burnett was one of the million black G.I.s who were eligible for a federally guaranteed mortgage under the G.I. Bill of Rights. Turned down, Burnett drove back to the Bronx.

As of 2017, only 1.19 percent of 51,800 Levittown residents were African American (617 people). Federal policy has left at least a three-generation legacy of continued de facto discrimination. Home ownership gave millions of white former G.I.’s and their families a leg up on the American ladder, even as one million Black G.I.’s found their economic path blocked.

Open Membership and the Co-op Struggle against Racial Covenants

Millions of Black and white G.I.’s fought together to defend democracy. Many came home with a wish to build a better America in which they could live together. A few racial walls were coming down—slowly.

In a number of American communities, former G.I.’s proposed new integrated communities. Winning the war against fascism abroad created interest in building a new America at home. Among these were a number of housing co-ops. The many cooperative housing communities that sprouted after the war proudly followed the Rochdale Principles, named after the English town that launched the co-op movement in 1844. The first co-op principle is open membership, which means simply that membership is open to all who wish to avail themselves of the services of the co-op and are willing to bear the responsibilities of membership.

Interracial housing cooperatives formed after World War II were specifically meant to be inclusive of families of any color whatsoever. However, the same FHA that financed hundreds of post-war white suburbs was adamantly opposed to integrated suburbs. As a result, the FHA opposed the establishment of interracial housing cooperatives.

Among the projects blocked were the following:

  • Community Homes, Reseda, California: Based in Reseda near Los Angeles, the co-op housing group had purchased 100 acres in 1945, upon which they planned to build 280 homes. They spent four years buying the land, paying for site plans and floor plans, and meeting with the local planning department. Yet, it all stopped with the FHA’s decree that the inclusion of people of color (“Blacks”) jeopardized good business practice. A 1949 memo from Marshall to President Truman referred to the FHA’s prohibitive actions against Community Homes and York Center Cooperative Community in Illinois. The two co-ops were the only communities referred to in his memo. Truman then advanced some of Marshall’s suggestions in the National Housing Act of 1949.
  • Peninsula Housing Association (PHA): Based in Ladera, west of Palo Alto, the PHA was formed in 1944 mainly by members of the local food co-op. By 1946, the housing co-op’s 150 members had purchased 260 acres of ranchland in the nearby Portola Valley. Denied FHA loans, the PHA ultimately closed and sold the land and plans to a developer who agreed to sell homes only to whites. In the 2010 US Census, Ladera’s 535 households have a population of 1,426, of whom only three people (0.2 percent) are listed as Black.
  • Mutual Housing (now Crestwood Hills) Association: Three ex-servicemen returned to Los Angeles from the war with the idea of building an affordable integrated community based upon cooperative principles of open membership. By the late 1940s, the founders had recruited 500 members, and with a $1,000 deposit per member, they had raised the funds to buy 800 acres in Kenter Canyon in West Los Angeles. At first, the FHA was against all the land being owned cooperatively. Then, the FHA required the MHA to have racial covenants forbidding anyone other than a Caucasian to own and live in the housing. By 1952, with no progress and lots of development costs, the MHA was broke and had to dissolve. The resurrected Crestwood Hills Association had to accept the cutting of the collectively owned land into individual parcels, and they had to apply racial covenants to each lot in the first tract to get financing. By the time of the second tract, the co-ops had forced the FHA to follow the law, and no racial covenants were required.

An Exception that Proves the Rule: The Case of Sunnyhills

When Ford moved its plant from Richmond, California to Milpitas, California, in 1954, one issue seemed insurmountable. Many Blacks worked for Ford in Richmond, and a number of them had worked on building Liberty Ships during the war in the same community. However, there was no housing open for Blacks in or near Milpitas, an hour’s drive from Richmond.

In the 1950s, the United Auto Workers union (UAW) and its president Walter Reuther had taken a strong interest in sponsoring integrated housing cooperatives for their members. Ben Gross, a Black UAW Local 560 leader in Richmond who was part of the national union task force on housing, was given the role of locating land near Milpitas. The UAW wanted to sponsor integrated housing cooperatives that could be built to accommodate the existing UAW Richmond workforce, which was about 20% Black.

The efforts of Ben Gross and others in the Richmond UAW Local 560 were repulsed by both local landowners and local governments. Santa Clara County had few Black residents, and segregation and racial covenants had kept it that way. When the UAW pursued funding for the homes in the development, they ran into the same FHA rules, regulations, and culture that had stymied the other co-ops. Once again, the FHA, local developers, and local government agencies looked like they were going to stop an integrated co-op.

However, in this instance, the UAW officers pursued a new and different tack. The UAW arranged for a long-term mortgage through the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae). In this case, the UAW applied under a new co-op ownership program called Section 213 of the Federal Housing Act of 1950. This program was administered by the Cooperative Development Office of the FHA rather than the FHA’s single-family home program.

Without the UAW’s organizational and financial muscle, Sunnyhills would never have come about. Few other entities had the resources, people power, and time to withstand the years of struggle and the costs of litigation and development. Coming along a few years later than the other interracial co-op efforts also helped. Ultimately, Sunnyhills got built as an interracial cooperative, becoming the first one ever approved by the FHA.

When Sunnyhills was finally mapped out, the UAW saw to it that Ben Gross and other union leaders were perpetually honored. Gross Street, in particular, paid homage to the UAW-backed leader behind Sunnyhills. Due to his civic commitment, Ben Gross went on to become the first Black mayor of any city in California. He served as mayor of Milpitas from 1966 to 1970.

However, Ben Gross played one other unique role in US history. When Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev visited the USA in 1959, President Eisenhower wanted Khrushchev to see the fruits of a vibrant postwar America. One afternoon, after a visit to an IBM plant in San Jose, Khrushchev was whisked off secretly to see Ben Gross and his family in their home in Sunnyhills. Eisenhower wanted Khrushchev to see a home in an integrated neighborhood where Black and white families were living together. The Secret Service did not allow any photos to be taken and even confiscated the Grosses’ personal camera. The only US housing seen by the leader of Russia was an interracial housing co-op that ten years earlier would not have been allowed.

Segregating Housing's Legacy Today

It is painful to record that in that postwar era and economy which saw so many changes in American society, racism was brushed under the rug. The housing segregation fortified by the policies of the FHA then has built the society we live in now. America, of course, continues to have a whole lot of work ahead of it if the country wishes to build an integrated society. The legacy of the blocked postwar co-op ownership projects—and of redlining more generally—is, of course, a central reason behind the nation’s large and still growing racial wealth gap.

Although in their time these cooperators did not always succeed, their efforts, along with the NAACP and other groups, for a better and racially diverse America were not in vain. It is hard to imagine the Fair Housing Act of 1968 coming to fruition, for example, without these earlier struggles to painstakingly, project by project, break down the edifice of federally supported housing segregation.

But that is not to ignore the enormous human cost that the participants in these efforts often faced. In almost all of the proposed communities described above, hundreds of people lost their life savings after dedicating years of effort to build interracial communities.

This article is dedicated to those brave cooperators who in fighting to overcome the color bar in housing did, through their considerable personal sacrifice, help bring an end to de jure discrimination and who remain, even today, an example to us all.


  • Buckner, Cory. Crestwood Hills: The Chronicles of a Modern Utopia. Santa Monica: Angel City Press, 2015.
  • Dannenberg, Elsie N. Get Your Own Home the Cooperative Way. New York: Greenberg, 1949.
  • Eunice and George Grier. Privately Developed Interracial Housing: An Analysis of Experience. Berkeley, 1960.
  • Hassan, Amina. Loren Miller: Civil Rights Attorney and Journalist. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press: 2015.
  • Marshall, Thurgood. “Memorandum to the President of the United States Concerning Racial Discrimination by the Federal Housing Administration, “National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, February 1, 1949.
  • Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law. Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York: 2017.
  • Ruffin II, Herbert G. Uninvited Neighbors: African Americans in Silicon Valley, 1769-1990. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Zellman, Harold, and Roger Friedland. “Broadacre in Brentwood?” In Looking for Los Angeles: Architecture, Film, Photography, and the Urban Landscape. Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute. 2001.


David J Thompson is a former Western Region Director of the National Cooperative Bank where he funded the development of over 1,500 units of low and moderate-income integrated cooperative housing. David is co-principal of Neighborhood Partners LLC, developer of over 1,000 units of integrated low-income affordable housing.

Frederick Douglass and Co-ops in 1846

by David J Thompson


Frederick Douglass drew himself up to his height of just over 6 feet, looked out over the packed audience of over 1,000 - mostly millworkers - and vociferously and eloquently described his life as a slave in the United States of America. It was October 10th, 1846, and Douglass had just been warmly introduced by John Bright, a British Member of Parliament. Even at a young age, Bright had already emerged as one of the most powerful speakers in Britain against slavery. There was a sold-out house in the Public Room on Baillie Street in Rochdale, Lancashire, England.

Douglass used his time to educate the engaged Rochdale audience about his life as a slave and slavery itself in the United States. Douglass spoke at the Public Hall in Rochdale in 1846, five times between October 10 and 14, and twice more on November 10 and 11. On October 12, Douglass returned to Manchester to speak to 4,000 people at the Free Trade Hall, and then returned to Rochdale.

Frederick Douglass was 28 years old and had just published his first book, "Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.” Because the book was an instant best seller in the U.S., and because the press identified the public places where Douglass spoke, Douglass was at grave risk of immediate arrest. Douglas had fled to Britain because his American owner, Thomas Auld, had announced that he intended to capture Douglass and return him to forced slavery. William Lloyd Garrison, the leading American Abolitionist, had accompanied Douglass to Rochdale and also spoke at each of the October meetings.

Surely among the audience at the Public Hall in Rochdale that night and during the other speeches that Douglass gave that week in Rochdale, were some of the founders of the first modern co-op. The tiny store opened by the Rochdale Pioneers at 31 Toad Lane was about a three-minute walk away from the Public Room on Baillie Street. All of the original 28 members of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society were heavily engaged in the social and political change of that era. Every Sunday, many of Rochdale’s co-op founders and members attended the non-conformist churches, such as Methodist, Unitarian, and Baptist chapels. Here, they would have heard sermons on the evils of slavery. These local activists had started the Co-op in 1844, to change their daily circumstances. Every day at work in the mills or walking on its streets, the Rochdale Pioneers were recruiting other millworkers to join their co-op.

John Bright was an early supporter of the ‘self-help’ philosophy of the Rochdale Pioneers and occasionally spoke in Parliament about the accomplishments of his local Co-op. Bright supported changes in the law that gave cooperatives greater financial power. Additionally, Bright spoke highly of the co-ops’ ability to be democratic while running a business. Bright noted in his 1854 diary that he was to visit the co-op to check on its progress. Bright used the example of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society to sway other members of parliament in favor of extending the vote to working men.

Bright’s’ brother, Jacob Bright, was also a strong supporter of cooperatives. In the 1850s he was appointed as an arbitrator of the Co-operative Manufacturing Society and the cooperatively run Corn Mill. Subsequently, Jacob Bright became the first elected Mayor of Rochdale.

During his almost three-year stay in Britain (1845-1847), Douglass gave roughly 300 public speeches in many different towns and cities in Britain. Many of his speaking engagements and stays were hosted by a strong network of Quakers, John Bright, being one of them. Bright had arranged for Douglass to speak in Rochdale on seven different occasions in 1846 alone. Douglass was also a regular guest at “One Ash,” the Rochdale home of John Bright and his family. In “The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass,” page 235, Douglass writes about his first visit to England (1845-1847), “I was, besides, a welcome guest at the home of Mr. Bright in Rochdale and treated as a friend and brother among his brothers and sisters."

Beginning in August of 1846, Ellen Richardson, a Newcastle Quaker, engaged in raising funds from her circle of Quakers to buy Frederick Douglass out of slavery. As a result of Douglass’ stay with John Bright in Rochdale, Bright immediately contributed one-third of the money needed to purchase Douglass from his American slaveholder. In October of 1846, Douglass arrived in Rochdale a fugitive slave. With Bright’s contribution, however, Douglass left Rochdale about to become a free man. Ellen Richardson wrote that with the gift of Bright, they were certainly going to be able to pay the price for Douglass’s freedom from slavery.

By December 1846, Bright and the other Quakers learned that the sale was almost complete. Towards the middle of December, Frederick Douglass learned by steamship mail that as of December 12, 1846, Douglass was no longer legally a slave in the USA, and his papers of manumission had been confirmed. On December 22nd, 1846 Douglass wrote a reply to a letter written on December 12th by Henry C Wright. Wright was a fellow abolitionist who occasionally spoke on the same platform as Douglass. Douglass was cautious about being allied with him as Wright was a fiery speaker with more radical views than Douglass. Wright had written to Douglass severely critiquing him for allowing people to buy him as a slave. From the content of each of the letters, it is evident that both Wright and Douglass know that Douglass is being freed. At the time, Douglass was staying twelve miles away from Rochdale at 22 St Ann’s Square, Manchester.

Frederick Douglass remarked on March 30, 1847, at a farewell banquet at the London Tavern in London:

"I do not go back to America to sit still, remain quiet, and enjoy ease and comfort. . . I glory in the conflict, that I may hereafter exult in the victory. I know that victory is certain. I go, turning my back upon the ease, comfort, and respectability which I might maintain even here. . . Still, I will go back, for the sake of my brethren. I go to suffer with them; to toil with them; to endure insult with them; to undergo outrage with them; to lift up my voice in their behalf; to speak and write in their vindication; and struggle in their ranks for the emancipation which shall yet be achieved."

In his conclusion, Douglass states; "I came here a slave, but I go back free."

On April 2, 1847, Douglass stayed with John Bright in Rochdale - the day before he sailed from Liverpool back to America for the first time in his life as a free man.

Douglass arrived home in the spring of 1847. He sailed early Sunday, April 4. The last night of his stay abroad was spent as the guest of John Bright and his sisters. From no one in England could Douglass have received a more gracious welcome and friendly benediction than from this great commoner. “Frederick Douglass: A Biography by Booker T. Washington,” (p 65). Originally published: Philadelphia: G.W. Jacobs, 1906.

The linking of Frederick Douglass, John Bright, Rochdale, and the first modern co-op began in 1846. The link between cooperatives and the campaigns against slavery, and for civil rights continues strongly to this very day and for eons to come.

This linkage can be divided into two different eras;

1. Anti-Slavery and Co-ops

Frederick Douglass’ sojourn in Britain in 1845-1847, occurred during the same years that consumer and worker cooperatives were being born all over Britain. The Chartist movement might have been stalled by Parliament, but the struggle for local democratic change carried on in the form of cooperatives. Many of the British Chartist leaders who welcomed Douglass to speak were also engaged in building different types of cooperatives. Due to their strong interest in building democratically owned local institutions, many cooperatives emerged in the same towns where Douglass spoke.

Not only did Douglass speak in Rochdale, the English cradle of the cooperative movement, but Douglass had also spoken earlier in Fenwick, on April 6, 1846. Fenwick is the Scottish birthplace of the Fenwick Weavers (1761-1839), an early model of cooperatives. It was an era of societal change which sought democracy and abhorred slavery of any kind. The audiences that came to hear Douglass wanted to build the same slavery-free world that Douglass spoke of. The fledgling cooperative movement was an ardent activist in the British fight against slavery everywhere. In the West Indies, the last bastion of British Slavery did not end until 1838.

While in Britain, Douglass was introduced to other efforts to obtain democratic rights. The British Chartist leader, the Irish-born Feargus O’Connor led the actions to create cooperative land societies. Members would buy shares in a land cooperative that would use the combined funds to buy land and then by lottery allocate parcels of the land to the members. The intent was to create a parcel of land of value that would give the member the right to vote. Thousands of democratic activists bought shares in these Chartist Cooperative Land Companies and a number of the Rochdale Pioneers were among them.

Since Douglass spoke, on occasion, on the same platform as O’Connor during his stay in Britain, Douglass would have learned of the Chartists’ property path to democracy. Douglass also often spoke on the same platform as Herrington, and these Chartists later played a role in evangelizing about working people needing to start cooperatives. There is a possibility that Douglass may have visited one of the Chartist colonies (Heronsgate?) to see how the parceling of property had created a number of voting free-holders.

John Bright was the first president of the similar efforts of the Rochdale Freehold Society. In 1850, the society bought 24 acres of land in Rochdale which was then divided up into 500 pieces of land for houses that would create over time 500 new voters in the town. There is an area of Rochdale today still called Freehold centered on Freehold Street. Extending the vote to the middle and working classes would energize new political parties that would later change the face of British politics.

During his lengthy sojourn in Britain (1845-47) while staying in London, Douglass was often the guest of John Bright and stayed at the Reform Club on Piccadilly.

There is a second possibility of Frederick Douglass and Charles Howarth, (one of the original 28 founders of the Rochdale Pioneers and its second President) being in the same room at the same time. It is documented separately that in 1847, Douglass and Howarth were each in the House of Commons in the “Strangers Gallery” (a balcony with three narrow rows of seating for guests and visitors) to hear John Bright speak on the Ten Hours Bill. It has not been possible to confirm if it was on the same date.

2. Chronology of Support for the U.S. North in the Civil War (1861-65): The Role of Douglass, Bright, Rochdale, and Cooperatives

  • Frederick Douglass had a long and strong friendship with John Brown that began in Brown’s home in Springfield, MA, in 1847. In 1858, Brown stayed with Douglass at his home in Rochester, NY, and asked Douglass to take part in the attack at Harpers Ferry. In August of 1859, Douglass met secretly with Brown at a quarry near Chambersburg, PA, to discuss the details of the raid. At that meeting, Douglass told Brown he would not participate.

  • Douglass was giving a talk when he heard that the Harper’s Ferry Raid had begun. Douglass immediately fled to England in fear of being arrested as a John Brown accomplice. Douglass arrived in Liverpool on November 24th, 1859, and spent Christmas and January with Julia Crofts (nee Griffiths) and stayed in Britain until leaving from Liverpool on April l 1860, until he was assured that his relationship to Brown was no longer cause for arrest. (Frederick Douglass Encyclopedia, p60)

  • When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the bottom fell out of the cotton market at the Manchester Exchange. Soon hundreds of cotton manufacturers in Lancashire either closed down or substantially reduced production. Sixty percent of the mills were idle. Thousands of cotton factory workers were laid off and they and their families faced new levels of poverty and starvation.

  • During the 1860s, the Rochdale Observer newspaper actively opposed slavery. The paper printed numerous letters from Rochdale millworkers who had immigrated to the USA to escape the unemployment caused by the Civil War. Those letters urged the people of Rochdale to keep up their support by describing the slavery they had seen and learned about in the USA. The Rochdale and other British cooperators who had arrived in the USA immediately organized consumer co-ops in the mill towns of the US North East. A co-op in the town of Lawrence, MA, is a good example of the activist impact of mill worker immigrants from Rochdale. The American co-ops started by British immigrants from the mill towns of the US North East also took strong action against slavery.

  • In 1863, to honor the efforts of those Americans who fought against slavery and supported the North against the South during the Civil War, the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) in Manchester adopted their motto as “Labor and Wait” spelling Labor in the American style. In addition, the CWS leaders renamed their annual meeting their ‘Congress’ and the chairman of ‘Congress’ was renamed President. Over 160 years later, the annual meeting of British co-ops is still called ‘Congress’ in honor of those who fought slavery.

  • Lincoln kept a framed photo of John Bright in his office in the White House. After Lincoln was shot, historians looked at what was in his pockets.

  • One item Lincoln had was a clipping of John Bright urging people to vote for Lincoln.

  • In Britain, Manchester was the heart of the fight against the South and slavery, and the Union and Emancipation Society was the leading voice and critical organizer of British anti-slavery opinion during the US Civil War. The largest indoor-attended anti-slavery meetings in Britain were held at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Douglass had spoken eight times at the Free Trade Hall and other Manchester locations in 1846 and 1847, and once in 1860.

  • J.C. Edwards and E. O. Greening were the hard-working, unpaid ‘Honorable Secretaries’ of the Union and Emancipation Society, Britain’s most powerful organization against slavery and in favor of the North. Edwards and Greening were also both elected board members and officers of the Cooperative Wholesale Society. Thomas Bayley Potter, the Chairman of the Union and Emancipation Society, was a Member of Parliament for Rochdale from 1865-1895. In 1891, his niece, Beatrice Potter wrote, “The Co-operative Movement in Britain."

  • There is a statue of Abraham Lincoln in Manchester - one of only a few in Britain. On the plinth is Lincoln’s personal letter of January 13, 1863, addressed to “The Workingmen of Manchester."

  • The Touchstones Museum in Rochdale has the only remaining barrel of those sent to Liverpool in 1863, on the SS Griswold, where 15,000 barrels of flour were sent by sympathetic Americans to feed people in Lancashire hungry from the vast unemployment caused by the Cotton Famine.

  • During the Cotton Famine, The Rochdale co-op used its meeting and reading rooms for classes to increase the educational capacity of the members who were unemployed.

  • In late 1862, thousands of the inhabitants of Rochdale personally signed a petition asking Lincoln to free all slaves in the USA. That petition is in the collection of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Hundreds of co-op members from Rochdale will have signed the petition. By 1865, there were 5,326 members of the Rochdale co-op.

  • When the Rochdale Pioneers opened their new main store on September 28, 1867, they invited English-born Richard Hinton to speak at the ceremony. Hinton was an avid enemy of slavery and a close friend and associate of John Brown. Hinton had reached the rank of Colonel in command of Colored Regiments and was also Acting Inspector General of the Freedman’s Bureau during the Civil War.

In front of the City Hall at Manchester facing the building are two large statues of Abel Heywood and John Bright. They are both placed equidistant from the Albert Memorial centerpiece. Both of these reformist leaders spoke out vociferously against slavery and both of them urged working people to join cooperatives.

In 1863, 300 Lancashire and Yorkshire cooperatives banded together to form the North of England Co-operative Society. In 1872, that society changed its name to the Co-operative Wholesale Society and in 2001, the name was changed again to its present-day name, The Co-operative Group. No matter the name, from 1863 forward to this very day, Manchester has been the commercial and administrative center of the British Co-operative Movement.

Cooperatives have always been linked with efforts to build a better and more inclusive world. The ties between Frederick Douglass, John Bright, Rochdale, and Cooperatives started in 1846 and paved the way for a very special road. Cooperators today continue that work in Britain, the USA, and all around the world. What a great start we were given!

© David J Thompson 2021.
Written for the National Cooperative Bank at the request of Chuck Snyder, CEO

Social Justice Committee Update (11/23/2020)

Thanksgiving provides a time to reconnect with friends and family over a wonderful meal and create lasting memories. It also offers a time for reflection on how we can continue to become a better global society.

River Valley Co-op's Social Justice Committee offers you a way to rethink Thanksgiving as explained by Indigenous Peoples' organizations. We hope you find these perspectives worth supporting, as do we.


National Day of Mourning

Since 1970, Native Americans and our supporters have gathered at noon on Cole's Hill in Plymouth, MA to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. Participants in the National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection, as well as a protest against racism and oppression.

Participate in the 51st National Day of Mourning, presented by UAINE

WHEN:  November 26, 2020  12:00 PM
WHERE:  Cole's Hill - Carver St, Plymouth, MA 02360


Let's Change the Narrative!

12 Things You Can Do to Help:

1. Learn the Real History

Learn about Thanksgiving and early colonial history from Native perspectives.

2. Decolonize your Dinner

Native chefs have created a culinary movement with the goal of getting Indigenous people to honor their ancestors through their dietary choices. Bring Native American dishes to the dinner table.

3. Listen to Indigenous Voices

Cultural Survival's Indigenous radio producers bring you the latest information on Indigenous Peoples' rights and how they are being implemented around the world. Listen to these programs designed for broadcast on community radio stations, including Public Service Announcements, interviews and documentaries about internationally recognized rights and the strategies communities are using to make those rights a reality

Visit to tune in. Other recommended broadcasts include...

4. #StandwithMashpee 

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is calling on members of Congress to help "protect the statute of reservation" after the Trump administration overturned an Obama era decision that could see their land taken from them. This marks the first time that Native land has been taken out of trust since the "Termination Era" of the 1940s - 1960s, a huge blow to Indigenous sovereignty. Stand with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe by calling your congressional representatives and asking them to pass HR-5244: The Wampanoag Tribe Reservation Reaffirmation Act.

5. Celebrate Native People and Read the Works of Native Authors

Mainstream media is finally focusing on the amazing Native talent Indian County has to offer. Check out these talented artists:

For too many years, Native people were silenced and their stories were marginalized. That's why it's especially important to read stories about Native characters, told in Native voices. Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with books by Native writers.

6. Buy Native this Holiday

Research where you can buy gifts from Native artisans in your area. Cultural Survival ( is a great resource for discovering arts and crafts from Native artists and also has a seasonal bazaar. 

7. Share Positive Representations of Native People

Project 562 and Red Works Photography showcase contemporary Native America and Canada with grace, beauty and style. Matika Wilbur and Nadya Kwadibens are changing the perceptions of Native and First Nations people.

8. Watch Films about First Nation and Native Americans

Native Americans and First Nation peoples have to contend against decades of negative depictions by the film and television industries, but they are making real headway in changing perspectives. A few films to get started with include...

9. Plant Native!

Native plants support healthy ecosystems. For example, they sustain insects, which are the cornerstones of a healthy environment. Insects in turn provide needed energy to birds and help fuel their migration in the fall.
(info from The Smithsonian)

10. End Racist Native Mascots in Sports

There are still more than 1,000 high school, university and professional sports teams that continue to use Native American mascots. Though changes have been made at the high school and college levels, at the professional level there has been virtually no change. Start the change by building a grassroots effort in your community.

11. Have Discussions with Other People

Our empathy and perspectives change the more we discover and learn about others. Share what you have learned with your family and friends and they may have a fresh point of view you haven't previously considered.

12. Get Involved with Groups Working for Change!

Indigenous People's Day MA

United American Indians of New England [UAINE]

Cultural Survival

Native American Indian Heritage Month

What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S. has resulted in a whole month being designated for that purpose!

The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states also celebrate the fourth Friday in September—in Illinois, for example, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Presently, several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day (or Indigenous Peoples Day), but it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 "National American Indian Heritage Month." Similar proclamations, under variants on the name (including "Native American Heritage Month" and "National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month") have been issued each year since 1994.

For the Week of November 23-29, 2020...

River Valley Co-op will match up to $1,500 from Change for Change funds collected to United American Indians of New England [UAINE].

UAINE is best known for organizing a National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, MA every "Thanksgiving Thursday," and this year will be its 50th anniversary.

They also lead campaigns, as well as provide tactical and strategic advice to people in the region who are working on Indigenous Peoples Day efforts. UAINE works with others in coalition to organize and support Indigenous Peoples Day events. Additionally, they support many other Indigenous and progressive struggles—from the Black Lives Matter movement to climate justice and justice for migrants... and much more.


Western MassSocial Justice Groups and Projects


413 Staying Connected for Action (Florence, MA)

  • MISSION: To connect Western Massachusetts residents to affect policy changes that preserve and strengthen democracy at the local, state and federal levels. 413 Staying Connected engages in political action and civil disobedience to amplify a collective desire to influence elections and put progressives in office, changing the direction of our nation's politics. on elections. Currently, volunteers can participate in writing and phoning elected officials and candidates for office ahead of this year's election to convey facts and override the effects of negative and false political advertising. They are working directly with 11 freshmen Democratic congressional members faced with challenging races this November.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Volunteer Work - Phone Banking, Electoral Outreach and Voter Protection (Poll Observation)
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook - Twitter

ACLU Immigrant Protection Project of Massachusetts (Florence, MA)

  • MISSION: The ACLU of Massachusetts IPP is a coordinated regional effort by attorneys and different organizations to provide immigrants in Western Massachusetts with referrals for legal assistance and connections to other services.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Referrals to legal services (immigration court, family law, workplace, housing, free speech), social services (education, health, family & youth) and advocacy groups (immigrant rights, workplace concerns, community-based support)
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook

All Souls Church Anti-Racism Film Festival (Greenfield, MA)

  • MISSION: To welcome all who seek fellowship in our liberal religious tradition; to nurture in the spiritual well-being of our children and ourselves; to show that people can transcend differences; to nourish and enrich each other in a common spiritual quest; and to provide information and opportunities for members of All Souls and others to act upon the issues of injustice and inequity.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: The Annual Anti-Racism Film Festival (a series of films is shown dealing with different aspects of racism, with each film followed by facilitated discussion)
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Amherst Human Rights Commission (Amherst, MA)

  • MISSION: To ensure that no power goes unchecked and that all citizens are afforded equal protection under the law; to promote a community of mutual respect and to honor diversity.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Advising Public Officials, Sponsoring Youth Programs, Human Rights Awards Nominations
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Amherst NAACP (Amherst, MA)

  • MISSION: To secure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Civil Rights Advocacy (legal, social), Community Organizing, Education
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Arise for Social Justice (Springfield, MA)

  • MISSION: A low-income rights and anti-oppression organization fighting for housing rights, the right to breathe clean air, the right to be free from police misconduct and unjust drug laws, jobs and income, an end to war--and much more!
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Educational Resources and Social Advocacy Tools
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Black Lives Matter (Local Chapter - Amherst, MA)

  • MISSION: Black Lives Matter is an online forum intended to build connections between Black people and our allies to fight anti-Black racism, spark dialogue amongst Black people and to facilitate the types of connections necessary to encourage social action and engagement, valuing dialogue and relationship building between and among Black people.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Political Advocacy, Community Organizing
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Coming Together (Amherst, MA)

  • MISSION: This is a local project seeking to bring people in Amherst, MA together to gain a deeper understanding of how race affects our area and our nation, make connections with each other and lay the groundwork for effective action to create a more equitable, interconnected and inclusive community.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Social Advocacy, Public Forums, Educational Tools
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Crossing the Waters Institute for Cultural Exchange (Amherst, MA)

  • MISSION: To build alliances between artists and others in the U.S. with groups in Africa and inspire new ways of thinking about African culture through sustainable partnerships in education, arts and healthy living initiatives, as well as projects catering to these specific needs. Their international exchange program creates cultural connections, dialogue and community collaboration by facilitating skills development and encouraging increased cultural awareness.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Social Justice Education, Visual and Performing Arts


The David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and Underground Railroad Studies (Florence, MA)

  • MISSION: The center honors the sacrifices and contributions made towards the abolition of slavery by courageous individuals in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts, particularly those who came to the Northampton area to challenge slavery, live in freedom and establish a community based on principles of race, gender, class and religious equality. They seek to educate and inspire visitors to recognize current opportunities in the ongoing fight for equality and justice by sharing powerful voices from our shared past.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Volunteer-guided Tours, Historical Exhibits and Research Archives
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (Amherst, MA)

  • MISSION: The Franklin County CPR is dedicated to fighting for the same social, political and economic issues that were central to the Bernie Sanders political campaign platform of 2016, prioritizing campaign finance reform, civil rights and social justice, world peace, people-focused priorities, the ongoing climate crisis, workers' rights and people before profits.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Grassroots Campaigns, Social Demonstrations, Electoral Engagement, Educational Tools
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Gardening the Community (Springfield, MA)

  • MISSION: To promote food justice through youth engagement and development, urban agriculture and sustainable living in order to build healthy and more equitable urban communities. Youth members learn valuable skills, like growing their own foods and delivering them to local markets, as well as receive education and training in water conservation and eco-friendly commerce.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Work Training Programs, Urban Farming, Green Transportation, Conservation
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Great Falls Books Through Bars (Greenfield, MA)

  • MISSION: Great Falls Books Through Bars is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to combating systemic injustice and inhumane treatment in our penal system by providing free books, legal resources and reading materials to prisoners incarcerated around Franklin County. They were inspired to start donating books after the U.S. witnessed a massive increase in imprisonment over the latter half of the 20th century. Today, they believe in and aspire to create a world without prisons, where no profits are generated through others' misery and where the communities they serve have both their needs met and opportunities to develop their potential in any way they desire.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Donations of Books, Learning Materials and Office Supplies
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Greenfield Human Rights Commission (Greenfield, MA)

  • MISSION: The Commission believes that all citizens within their community have the right to be treated with fairness, impartiality and justice without regard to race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, religious convictions or disabilities. They develop local initiatives that work to this end, promoting a positive sense of community and unity based on both similarities and differences through dialogue, education, healing and a celebration of diversity. They are also tasked with responding, investigating, mediating and reporting to the community on allegations of human rights violations, as well as with providing resources, direction and counsel on matters of social justice.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Public Forums, Community Outreach and Organizing


Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley (Springfield, MA)

  • MISSION: Based on an understanding that racism afflicts our lives, businesses, neighborhoods, schools and interpersonal relationships, the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley was founded to discern the root causes and effects of racism and also build a better and more equitable community. Their signature program is a two-day Healing Racism session that provides a safe environment for engaging and transformative learning about the impact of racism nationally and locally.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Social Justice Seminars, Films and Educational Tools


Change the Mass Flag Campaign & State Commission (Boston, MA)

  • MISSION: For nearly four decades, the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs has worked with a select few state legislators to introduce legislation setting up a commission to recommend changes to the MA state flag and seal--and in 2020, that panel was created and something was finally being done to address the problem. The bill set up a commission of state legislators and representatives of Native Nations within the borders of Massachusetts to investigate changes to the state flag, seal and motto, with the resulting recommendations of the commission eventually moving on for approval by the legislature in order to implement the much-needed changes.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Grassroots Campaigning, Native American Education
  • FOR FURTHER READING: The Boston Globe


Lost River Racial Justice (Brattleboro, VT)

  • MISSION: As an all-white organizing group and affiliate of Showing Up for Racial Justice [SURJ], Lost River Racial Justice recognizes that white folks have an important role in educating themselves and each other on issues of race, and for taking action to end racism and work towards liberation for all people. They seek to build relationships within white communities that use their collective voice, power and privilege to support and uplift those from different ethnic backgrounds through promoting accountability and maintaining strong relationships with people of color-led organizations.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Community Organizing, Study Groups, Public Forums, Media Campaigns
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Massachusetts for Equality and Racial Justice (Berkshire County, MA)

  • MISSION: Founded as an organization to be operated by individuals who were both activists and members of marginalized groups, the MERJ's central goal is to achieve true diversity in leadership roles by focusing on the intersections of race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical disabilities, neurodiversity, immigration and socioeconomic status and geographic location to bring an authentic voice and perspective to all public endeavors. They seek to create opportunities for community involvement campaigns and events designed to educate MA residents about the varied and diverse populations living across our state. Their primary goal is to connect people from all walks of life in the hopes of creating a model for inclusiveness that can be followed throughout the Commonwealth.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Promoting Diversity in Leadership, Grassroots Demonstrations and Campaigns, Public Forums
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Mass Slavery Apology / Racial Justice Rising (Leverett, MA)

  • MISSION: To help construct a movement for racial justice by promoting a deeper understanding of systemic racism and racial justice, as well as through engaging in restorative activities that heal the racial divide and deliver justice for those targeted by racism in our society. They aspire to bring folks from all backgrounds and life experiences into the racial justice movement, as well as to help garner public support for reparations of slavery and restorative justice for descendants and present-day survivors of slavery around the world, victims of genocide and others afflicted by racial oppression. Their statement of apology for slavery reaffirms a commitment to restorative action and serves as a powerful teaching tool for moving forward and healing our country's racial wounds.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Community Outreach and Organizing, Vigils and Public Forums, Educational Tools


Multicultural BRIDGE (Lee, MA)

  • MISSION: BRIDGE is a women-led nonprofit dedicated to grassroots organizing that advances equity and justice while promoting cultural competence, positive psychological positioning and mutual understanding and acceptance. The organization strives to be a catalyst for societal change through community collaboration, training programs, educational opportunities, open dialogue, fellowship and sociopolitical advocacy. They connect the most vulnerable members of local communities to key resources and support networks while providing education to local institutions and the public at large.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Diversity Training and Social Services, Educational Programs, Community Organizing
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


The Nolumbeka Project (Greenfield, MA)

  • MISSION: To acknowledge that all of us are standing on and benefiting from land seized, expropriated and stolen from indigenous peoples who lived here for thousands of years—native groups like the Pocumtuck, Norwottock, Woronoco, Agawam, Nipmuck and Abenaki. The Nolumbeka Project aims to promote a deeper, broader and more accurate depiction of Native American groups before European contact and during colonization, as well as to protect sacred and historically rich Native sites around New England with preservation projects, cultural events and by working in partnership as much as possible with the tribes.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Archival Research, Volunteering (maintaining and protecting sacred sites), Donations (legal and operating expenses), Outreach Projects
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Not in Our Town Greenfield (Greenfield, MA)

  • MISSION: As a local chapter of Not in Our Town, NIOT-Greenfield shares in the larger organization's goals of building safe, inclusive communities where all can feel safe, comfortable and free from bullying and harassment. Their vision is to unite all the town's residents to stand together and stop hate while promoting safety and inclusion, as well as to work directly with students and school administrators to prevent bullying and intolerance. They seek to promote kindness while eradicating hatred and bigotry from our hearts and minds. Additionally, by opening channels of communication with local law enforcement and community leaders, they encourage them to join forces and promote better understanding to prevent hate crimes or any other form of violence from occurring in their communities.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Educational Forums, Civil Rights Demonstrations, Phone Banking
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Nuestras Raíces (Holyoke, MA)

  • MISSION: This grassroots urban agricultural organization seeks to create and provide their local communities with healthy environments while celebrating "agri-culture," and harnessing collective energy to advance a vision of a just and sustainable future in the city of Holyoke. Their founding members came to the area as migrating farmers in a place with very few opportunities to match their skills, inspiring them to create a network of community gardens (now 14 in total) throughout the city. Their approximately 600 family members operate urban farms that focus on urban agriculture, economic development and food systems changes. The group also strives to educate individuals and strengthen their understanding of a just and sustainable community food system, with access to healthy food and food justice encompassing the heart of what they do and hope to achieve.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Job Training, Youth Programs, Financial Services, Community Building
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Pioneer Valley Workers Center (Northampton, MA)

  • MISSION: To support and empower immigrants living and working throughout Western Massachusetts, organizing to build communities and achieve real change in the lives of those they serve. They envision a society free of hate and oppression; one which provides sufficient resources and financial opportunities for immigrant workers and families. Through worker-led campaigns, the PVWC has laid the groundwork for a multiracial working-class movement to dismantle systemic exploitation and fight for racial and economic justice and collective empowerment, promoting happy, healthy lifestyles for all. Some of their projects include a grassroots campaign to pass local wage theft ordinances and construction of a network to stop state-sanctioned violence against working people, including immigrants and people of color.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Resources for Immigrants, Women in Leadership, Food Justice Projects, Worker Committees
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


The Roots Social Justice Center (Amherst, MA)

  • MISSION: To provide a physically and financially accessible space in the Southern Vermont area where social justice groups can congregate and work towards goals promoting equity and justice for all. As a hub for racial justice organizing, the Roots prioritizes people of color in leadership and shifting resources to racial justice work and diversity advocacy. They operate collectively to sustain a place that is free of all oppression, harm, injustice and intolerance while providing leadership opportunities for people of color in the local community. Some of their volunteer-led programs include Soul Food Sundays (an inter-generational space for people of color to build relationships, heal and connect professionally), Youth 4 Change (a program to dismantle white supremacy and racist cultural infrastructure that shifts away the balance of power) and #IAmVTtoo (a social media campaign focused on creating understanding and awareness in majority-white communities of perpetuating racial stereotypes and inflicting harm on people of color).
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Community Organizing, Youth Leadership Programs, Arts & Events
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee (Florence, MA)

  • MISSION: Following the horrific beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992, a group of Pioneer Valley citizens came together in the name of racial equality and justice for all citizens. The Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee was founded with two goalsto create and establish a recognizable symbol that showed the community's desire to eliminate racism and challenge oppression, and to honor Sojourner Truth in that capacity, as her life's work was entirely dedicated to ending racism and promoting equality. The committee unveiled the Sojourner Truth statue and park in 2002, and since then they've embarked on numerous projects including partnering with area schools to bring Sojourner Truth's life story into classrooms, celebrating her legacy at an annual community celebration, granting scholarships to local high school students active in social justice efforts, and an online walking tour of the African-American Heritage Trail to promote awareness of the history of abolition and racial activism in Western Massachusetts.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Educational Tools & Events, Community Outreach and Grassroots Campaigns
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership (Florence, MA)

  • MISSION: The Truth School offers classes with the goals of promoting and facilitating the skills required to build a social movement and equipping people of all ages and backgrounds with organizational expertise for affecting civil empowerment and social change. They help future leaders develop the skills and confidence they need to organize vigils and demonstrations, run for elected office, write op-eds for local and national news outlets, engage in civil disobedience, lobby elected officials and participate in discourse with care and sensitivity. The Truth School operates in Fall and Spring with around 40 classes each semester, all of which are free and led by paid trainers with experience in building cultural movements. They recognize and acknowledge that removing the extractive, white-supremacist ideology of this country will take the efforts of many, so they seek to educate future leaders to change the course of history for a more fair and equitable future.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Social Justice Education, Community Development Programs, Leadership Training
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Undoing Racism Organizing Collective (Springfield, MA)

  • MISSION: The Undoing Racism Organizing Collective organizes, educates, communicates and provides resources to undo racist mentalities in our families, communities and public and private institutions, which they seek to do with humanity, integrity and accountability. Their collective hosts workshops intended to strengthen the anti-racist analysis and practice of individuals and community-based organizations in the Pioneer Valley, as well as to educate, challenge and empower people to contribute to the reversal of systemic racism. Their analysis moves beyond a focus on symptoms of racism, going further by offering a comprehensive understanding of what it means to be racistwhat it is, from where it originates, how it functions, why it persists and how it can be stopped.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Educational Tools, Community Workshops, Social Networking
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Visioning BEAR Circle Intertribal Coalition (Greenfield, MA)

  • MISSION: The mission of the VBCIC is to prevent sexual and domestic violence from occurring in intertribal communities across the Northeast and to eliminate all forms of harm and violence against Mother Earth. The acronym B.E.A.R. stands for "Balance, Equality and Respect," which is carried out through a women-led, unique and nationally recognized curriculum that offers learning and training tools for people of all genders, races and backgrounds. A key notable element of their education program, Walking in Balance with All Our Relations, includes survivor stories which create spiritual experiences between the land and people and serve as lessons for female youth in identity and empowerment. The curriculum is divided into thirteen separate three-hour modules, designed to serve as a way of life by building leaders to keep children safe in their communities.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Educational Programs, Safety & Prevention Training
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Western Massachusetts Health Equity Network (Amherst, MA)

  • MISSION: The Western MA Health Equity Network seeks regional strategies and opportunities to create conditions in which communities are able to attain the highest levels and standards of health for all their residents. They focus on reducing and eliminating preventable health and care-related inequities in areas of public policy, racial justice, data collection to emphasize a voice for marginalized communities and cross-sector collaboration including planners, funders, public health, hospitals and health care and community development organizations. In order to win the fight for health equity, the network believes in and values treating everyone equally with focused and continued societal efforts to address fully-avoidable inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices and the elimination of disparities in health care.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Health Care Access, Community Outreach, Educational Resources
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Western Massachusetts Showing Up for Racial Justice (Springfield, MA)

  • MISSION: SURJ believes in collective liberation through the complete and long-overdue destruction of systemic white supremacy. They work to undermine white support for white supremacy and to help construct a racially just and equitable society through resourcing and organizing, led by people of color, while maintaining strong accountability relationships with organizers and communities of color. To achieve this, group members take an inclusive and open-hearted approach to organizing, circumventing barriers for participation while maintaining clear political lines. Western MA SURJ employs three chief principles in their organizing approach—to de-legitimize racist institutions, fight for a fair economy that refuses to pit communities against one another and to shift culture, or underlying belief and value systems, away from white supremacist viewpoints.
  • OPPORTUNITIES: Social Justice Education, Community Organizing
  • SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook


Other Local Resources:


Educational Resources

White Supremacy Culture Characteristics

From "Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups," by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun [ChangeWork, 2001]

A list of characteristics which define white supremacy culture and show up in our organizations. Culture is powerful precisely because it is ever-present while at the same time very difficult to name or identify. The characteristics listed here are damaging because they are used as norms and standards without being proactively named or chosen by the group(s) they reference. They are damaging to both people of color and white people, as well. Organizations that are led by people of color (or a majority of people of color) can also demonstrate many damaging characteristics of white supremacy culture.

Click here to read and review the list of characteristics.

Action Steps & Policy Platform for Food Sovereignty

by Soul Fire Farm

These food sovereignty action steps were compiled by the Soul Fire Farm community and Northeast Farmers of Color alliance. It is divided into seven sections, including...

  1. Policy Platform
  2. Individual Actions
  3. Reparations
  4. Alliance Building
  5. Internal Organizational Transformation
  6. Grant-making and Funding
  7. Self-Reflection and Education

This document is designed for anyone who has ever asked, "How can I help make the food system more just?"

Click here to read the action steps.

11 Terms You Should Know to Better Understand Structural Racism

by the Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute posted a list of terms and their meanings to help people further understand structural racism and racial equity. This is a great way to introduce yourself to the meanings behind terms like "institutional racism" and "systemic racism."

Click here for the list of terms.

Anti-Racism Resources for White People

Compiled by Johnetta Elzie, a protestor and activist noted for her work in the Ferguson, MO protests.

This impressive Google doc is better than anything we could have put together independently. It includes articles to read, videos to watch, organizations to follow on social media, tools for white parents of white children and much, much more. It also links to other lists of resources that are worth checking out, as well.

Click here for the list of resources.

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

by The Medium [2017]

An older, yet still extremely relevant article from The Medium that details and describes 75 clear courses of action white people can take to be actively anti-racist in their everyday lives.

Click here for the list of actions.

The Case for Reparations

by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic [June 2014]

"The Case for Reparations" has been lauded as an arresting and highly accurate cataloguing of the black struggle in twentieth-century Americaespecially regarding the critical role property has played in both the historical and contemporary oppression of black people.

Click here to read the story.

Social Justice Donation Recipients

We continue to feel overwhelmed by fear, grief and anger over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, as well as everyone else who has lost their lives to injustice and racial violence. This added urgency to our commitment to do what we can in and throughout our co-op to undo racism. In early June, our Board of Directors made donations to support important anti-racism work in our community and to help support protesters' efforts to address racial justice locally and elsewhere in the United States. You can learn more about these organizations here.

The National Bail Fund Network $2000

The National Bail Fund Network is a nationwide effort to pay community bail and bond funds for those who are trapped by the system. Their mission is to free inmates by paying their bonds while fighting to abolish pretrial detention and the monetary bail system in the United States. Through an established network of funds across 33 states, as well as their national bureau, they seek to end the systemic incarceration and unjust persecution of Blacks and Latinos. Their members recognize and understand the injustices in our policing, bail and prison systems, and they work closely with locally allied organizations to educate the public about the cycles of dehumanization and marginalization in a system that routinely entraps, institutionalizes and destroys families.

For more about the Bail Fund Network, click here

This donation originally went to the Western Mass Prison Abolition Network, but they asked that we redirect it to the National Bail Fund Network. Click here to learn about their efforts ending mass incarceration in our local area.

The Twin Cities Mutual Aid Society $1000

Members of the Organic Consumers Association founded the Twin Cities Mutual Aid Society to protect those standing in solidarity for racial justice while potentially exposing themselves to COVID-19. Organizers are collecting donated funds and supplies to support and protect activists as they deliver their critically important message of widespread change. At the co-op, we are focused on helping the group direct essential health resources into communities where demonstrations and rallying calls for changes are taking place. The resources being distributed include personal protective equipment [PPE] and wellness kits containing masks, gloves, thermometers, immune-boosting products and more. They also contain reading materials advising people on how to care for those who are ill and which preventative measures to take while doing so.

To make a donation to the Twin Cities Mutual Aid Society in support of the assembly and distribution of these kits, click here.

Arise for Social Justice $3000

Arise for Social Justice has an extensive history of defending the rights of low-income families while fighting racial and gender oppression across the board. Their members unite communities impacted by poverty and racial inequality and teach them how to defend their legal rights. They encourage taking an active stance in all levels of the political process while contributing to causes that advocate proper housing for the homeless, environmental justice and public health.

Arise for Social Justice can be reached through Twitter or by phone at (413) 734-4948. Click here to learn more about their Springfield chapter’s work in our local area.


Black Lives Matter (Boston Chapter) $1000

Black Lives Matter is the nation’s largest movement of justice-seeking Americans standing together to end violence and systemic injustice against Black people while eradicating racism from our culture. The group was first formed in 2013 in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin and his killer’s subsequent acquittal. Through an active network of local chapters across the U.S., the group has made cultural waves and awoken many to the cold realities of white supremacy and police brutality. They sponsor TED talks, organize rallies and petitions, provide resources for learning and raise public awareness about incidents of violence against Black people that haven’t yet made national headlines.

To stay posted on upcoming Black Lives Matter marches, vigils and demonstrations in Massachusetts, click here. To make a donation in support of the movement, click here.

Undoing Racism Organizing Collective $1000

The UROC of Western Massachusetts does the work of providing education, workshops and resources for undoing racism in our local communities. Their primary goal is to teach how cultural messaging in our society harms perspectives of race through stereotyping and negative portrayals of Black culture in the media. They share videos, books, research papers and news articles to help the public understand and conceptualize just how widespread this problem is. The UROC also promotes local events and fundraisers to aid the cause regularly across social media.

To learn more about the UROC, click here. To make an individual donation, click here.


EmbraceRace $1000

EmbraceRace emphasizes the importance of having meaningful family discussions about race. They encourage mindfulness over what values and themes our children are being exposed to through the stories they read, watch or hear. They conduct workshops and online events, including reading sessions with stories by Black authors portraying Black children in a positive light. They’re also working hard to raise awareness to the disproportionate rate at which Black Americans are contracting COVID-19, particularly in these times where solidarity is needed now—not later.

For resources, guides and other materials aimed at educating youth about race, click here.


The Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership $1000

The Truth School is an area nonprofit that teaches and trains the public with the goal of building and maintaining a movement to end racism. They offer free classes where instructors give individuals and groups lessons on how to organize in their communities, stay active politically, deliver effective messaging and much more. Some of their specific lessons include teaching people how to organize a vigil, run for elected office, write guest editorials for local and national news outlets, engage in civil disobedience and lobby elected officials. The Sojourner Truth School strongly believes that we can affect change on a large scale by empowering each other with the knowledge and skills needed to stop racial violence and prejudice at home and across the country.

To make a contribution to the Truth School, click here. To stay up-to-date on their local efforts, including town halls, vigils and peaceful demonstrations, visit their Facebook page here.