abstract: This essay examines mid-twentieth-century cooperative organizing in New Orleans by tracing Socialist barber Henry Hermes’s efforts to launch an interracial cooperative movement. Hermes fervently believed that public control over industry and government would revitalize democratic institutions and eradicate political repression, institutionalized racism, and corporate capitalism. Established in 1941 as a cooperative grocery store for working-class Freret Neighborhood residents, the Consumers’ Co-operative Union (CCU) was the physical manifestation of Hermes’s utopian vision. For more than twenty years, the CCU was a space for exchanging local and national ideas about economic cooperation, racial justice, and political reform. Indeed, Hermes depended on a far-reaching New Deal support network that transcended his neighborhood and bridged political, racial, gender, and class divides. However, this coalition disintegrated in the face of white flight, anti-Communist hysteria, and urban economic decline in the 1950s. I contend that while particular depression-era neighborhood politics nurtured the CCU, larger national economic, political, and cultural trends ultimately confounded the cooperative’s ability to create sustained economic change in Freret.
Utopian Studies – Penn State University Press
Published: Apr 17, 2015
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