Natural Investments hosted a webinar called “Black Economic Self-Determination: To Move Forward We Must Understand The Past” with Ed Whitfield of Seed Commons. Reconstruction, the period that followed the Civil War, was a time when attempts were made to repair our country and our economy from slavery. Reconstruction failed, and set us up for what we are experiencing now–a political, social and economic system based in white supremacy and white nationalist violence. The increasing racial wealth divide exacerbated by COVID, killings of Black people, flagrant racism under Trump, modern day red lining and the January 6th insurrection are all ways that we see and feel the vestiges of failed Reconstruction.
The Ujima Fund launched in Boston in 2017 as an outgrowth of years of organizing for racial and economic justice. Ujima, the first community-controlled loan fund in the US, has raised $1.7 million to date. Ujima is a Swahili word meaning “collective work and responsibility”. The membership of Ujima is comprised of more than 250 working-class people of color living in Boston. As members, they vote on community business standards, neighborhood investment plans, and top community needs. Each member, no matter their level of investment, has one vote. Together, members decide which black-owned cooperatives and social enterprises to invest in, as well as those owned by people of color.
This article is the second of a two-part series by Tiffany Brown exploring the racial wealth divide across the Deep South.
The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama tells the story of stolen people, enslavement for free labor, the premature withdrawal of federal troops after Emancipation, and the lack of enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Back then, Black Codes legalized the arrest and punishment of Black people who didn’t have proof of employment, which led to convict leasing. In 1898, 73 percent of Alabama state revenue came from convict leasing to the lumber mills and for road maintenance. A full 35 years after Emancipation, Blacks were still being forced into free labor throughout the South.
In the museum, I learned of several laws that sought to block access by Black people to economic and political systems—on top of school segregation (which didn’t end until 1954) and the prohibition on Black voting until 1965. There was Shelley v. Kraemer (1948),
I have learned firsthand from my participation in social justice movements that privileged people in isolation cannot end wealth inequality or the close the racial wealth divide. As a wealthy white person in this country, however, that wasn’t what I was taught. When I was a student at Princeton University, I was told that poverty and climate change were problems that we, as intelligent individuals, could solve with technical innovation and social entrepreneurship. What I learned outside the classroom is that poor people are the experts on poverty; black activists are the experts on anti-black racism; and any attempt to solve a social problem must be shaped and guided by those who are most impacted.
When I first met Tiffany Brown in 2013, she was working with Resource Generation, an organization that organizes wealthy young people to become leaders in the movement for a more equitable distribution of wealth, land, and power.