Join Us Oct 22: Co-ops and the Civil Rights Movement

Celebrate Co-op Month with us this October as legendary cooperative activist David J. Thompson comes to the Co-op Culinary Learning Center on October 22 at 6 p.m.

The Role of Co-ops in the Civil Rights Movement

Thursday, October 22, 6 p.m., Lebanon Co-op Food Store

This event is free, but space is limited. Please RSVP to Emily Rogers, (603) 640-6508. Love to see it, but can’t be there in person? Join us online. RSVP as listed.


Internationally known cooperative historian and activist David J. Thompson will visit the Co-op Food Stores this October—presenting his research on a little-known link between cooperatives and the Civil Rights movement that spans early abolitionism to the present day.

Thompson will speak at the Lebanon Co-op, in the Co-op Culinary Learning Center, on October 22 at 6 p.m. The Lebanon Co-op is located in the Centerra Marketplace on Route 120 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. In a celebration of Co-op Month and cooperative unity, the Co-op will share the presentation by podcast with other cooperatives nationwide. The event is free and refreshments will follow.

For more than 30 years, Thompson has worked to develop cooperative economies in the United States, Britain, and Japan. He has consulted with cooperatives in more than 30 nations on five continents.

Thompson specializes in funding the capital needs of the cooperative development sector and nonprofit and cooperative housing. He was inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

“David has been a close friend to our co-op for decades,” said Co-op General Manager Terry Appleby. “It’s always wonderful to have him with us, and there’s always so much to learn from him. For those who know a lot about co-ops already, this presentation will be particularly interesting because it presents a history that many of us don’t know about and one that is important to us all.”

In 1993, while working on his classic book, Weavers of Dreams: Founders of the Modern Cooperative Movement, Thompson learned of the connection between early cooperative pioneers in Rochdale, England, and abolitionists in the United States.

Rochdale is an industrious, hardscrabble town about 40 miles northwest of Liverpool, nestled in the moors and hill country of the South Pennines. It is also the birthplace of the modern cooperative movement—a member-owned, radically egalitarian economic model that boasts nearly 800 million members around the world.

The first successful consumer cooperative was formed in Rochdale in 1844. Operating on the democratic principle of “one member, one vote,” the 28 members of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society opened their first food store at 31 Toad Lane in Rochdale on December 21, 1844.

“Frederick Douglass visited Rochdale and spoke in Fenwick during his sojourn in Britain in 1845 to 1847,” Thompson said. “The first third of the money to purchase Douglass’ freedom from slavery came from John Bright, a Rochdale resident and supporter of cooperatives.”

Thompson was born in Lancashire, England, in the same county as Rochdale. He is warm and affable, with a ready laugh, captivating speaking style, and an encyclopedic knowledge of cooperative history. He boasts the largest private library and image collection on cooperatives and cooperative communities in the world.

Thompson’s new book, Co-operatives and the Civil Rights Movement, is due for completion in early 2016.

Thompson said that far from being an isolated event, the early connection between cooperatives and civil rights for all people only foreshadowed what was to come.

“It would be a long time before African Americans obtained their full rights as citizens,” he said. “Yet, much earlier, cooperatives on both sides of the Atlantic proudly provided African-Americans with economic power and voting rights.”

For more information about the presentation and podcast, contact Emily Rogers, Co-op Member Services and Outreach, at (603) 640-6508.

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Ken Davis

Ken Davis

Ken is a writer in the Co-op Outreach Department. Email him at kdavis@coopfoodstore.com.