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How Centuries of Black Strength Created a Blueprint for Economic Recovery

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How Centuries of Black Strength Created a Blueprint for Economic Recovery

Black communities have for centuries harbored a spirit of support and mutual aid. It’s time the rest of the country followed their lead.


5 min read
5 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

The Underground Railroad gave the enslaved freedom and money. That network offers modern fiscal lessons.

Editorial Rating



  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples
  • Inspiring


The Underground Railroad was a network of freedom for those escaping enslavement in the 1800s. Lesser-known networks delivered financial assistance and vital information to enslaved people. After emancipation, community-based financial cooperatives provided economic support to Black Americans facing discrimination and segregation. Their inability to gain broad access to the US financial system yielded dividends that provide benefits today to Black Lives Matters protestors and other members of the Black community. Douglas Rushkoff’s article on Medium provides eye-opening information about mutual aid organizations and communal self-reliance.


Mutual aid programs are longstanding elements of the Black community.

For hundreds of years, informal systems of mutual assistance and shared resources served as lifelines for Black Americans. Since the 18th century – and possibly earlier – the cruelty inflicted by slavery, segregation and white supremacy sparked mutual aid networks in the Black community. Often, survival depended on this network of finances, freedom, information and equipment.

Evidence of these networks first emerged during slavery, according to the timeline featured in Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, a comprehensive book by Jessica Gordon Nembhard, PhD, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Slavery and the Post-Civil War era sparked the need for Black economic cooperatives.

During slavery, Black people formed and used financial cooperatives to collect funds to buy freedom for individual slaves. The fundraising cooperatives became freedom networks in which liberated Black Americans would collect funds and save money to pay for enslaved...

About the Author

Writer and columnist Douglas Rushkoff authored Team Human and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, and hosts the Team Human podcast. 

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