Open accesscreativecommonsPeer reviewed/Research article
Published online: Dec 2023

Freedom to dream: Black Owenites and co-operation in America

Victoria W. WolcottORCID

Vol 56 No 3, pp. 71-77

How to cite this article: Wolcott, V.W. (2023). Freedom to dream: Black Owenites and co-operation in America. Journal of Co-operative Studies, 56(3), 71-77.


Robert Owen’s vision of a co-operative society inspired two centuries of utopian experimentation among African Americans. In the nineteenth century white planter Joseph Davis and Scottish reformer Fanny Wright attempted to apply Owenite principles to their management of slave plantations. After emancipation freed people founded Black towns, such as Mound Bayou, Mississippi, pooling their resources to protect themselves against white supremacist violence. During the Great Migration in the 1910s and 1920s, W. E. B. DuBois and other Black activists and intellectuals promoted co‑operatives in urban centres. And the Great Depression of the 1930s inspired significant experiments in co‑operation, most notably the prosperous utopian community of Father Divine’s Peace Mission. While the post-war period saw a decline in co-operation, in more recent decades there has been a resurgence in interest in the movement. From co-operative grocery stores to large-scale utopian communities, African Americans drew on Owenite ideas of co-operation to assert their independence and self-sufficiency.



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