Leaders of the Colored Farmers' Alliance tried to encourage farmers of both races to develop a class consciousness for united action. Richard M. Humphreys, a white clergyman from Texas and president of the national Colored Alliance, hired men or persuaded volunteers to act as organizers and lecturers to inform farm owners and agricultural laborers about the alliance and to recruit members. Organizational records of the national and state alliances do not survive to document the work of the organizers or to provide verification of membership claims. By the spring of 1890 Humphreys had secured the services of William H. Warwick to serve as state organizer and lecturer in Virginia. An African American about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old, Warwick lived in Boydton, in Mecklenburg County. By that October, according to one account, about 10,000 Virginia farmers had joined the Colored Farmers' Alliance, and Rogers reported that Virginia had alliances in twenty-five counties.
The delegates elected Rogers superintendent, or president, of the state alliance and director of the exchange in Norfolk. They appointed a state board of directors and elected Warwick organizer and lecturer for the states of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia. Alliances included women as well as men, and on the second day of its organizational meeting the Virginia alliance proposed that the national constitution of the Colored Farmers' Alliance be amended to require that women pay a twenty-five-cent initiation fee and ten cents quarterly dues. The Virginia meeting also named Warwick and two other men as the alliance's representatives to the Colored Farmers' Alliance annual meeting that December in Ocala, Florida, where the all-white Southern Farmers' Alliance was also scheduled to meet.
1891 Convention and Demise
The Colored Farmers' Alliance in Virginia apparently flourished during 1891, but few records survive to document the work of its leaders or the number of its members. By one unverified account it had enrolled 20,000 members in forty-two counties. The alliance held its second state convention in Richmond in August of that year. Rogers did not attend, and rumors circulated that he had absconded with the resources of the exchange and had failed to deliver goods alliance members had paid for. The delegates unanimously elected Warwick state superintendent in his place, giving the Virginia alliance for the first time exclusively African American management. The delegates also appointed a committee to investigate the exchange. The convention named two delegates and two alternates to the next national convention of the Colored Alliance, and Warwick announced that the weekly Boydton Midland Express would be the alliance's official newspaper. No copies of the newspaper survive from the time to document the alliance's work.
The convention also invited George Williams to address the delegates. He was president of the Virginia Industrial, Mercantile, and Building Association, an African American financial services company. The alliance and association agreed to cooperate for their mutual benefit. Before adjourning, the delegates adopted a resolution in effect declaring independence from the racially exclusive Virginia Farmers' Alliance and the Democratic Party. Members of the Colored Alliance, it stated, "are beginning to realize that our salvation rests in neither of the old political parties and are no longer slaves to either, but are organizing to protect ourselves and thus free the toiling masses of our race from the deadly fangs of monopoly, and rings, and trust companies."
Soon after the convention adjourned Humphrey and Rogers publicly attacked Warwick for taking over the presidency of the state alliance from Rogers. They demanded that alliance members send dues to them rather than to the new state officers. In effect, they withdrew support from the Virginia alliance, which ushered in the demise of the organization. Warwick had no access to the alliance's membership list and could not collect dues. The exchange ceased functioning, and without support of the national organization the state alliance had to struggle along on its own. The Virginia Farmers' Alliance offered no help other than printing an occasional news item about the Colored Alliance in its newspaper, the Richmond Virginia Sun.
African Americans did not participate meaningfully in the 1892 Virginia campaign of the People's Party, not even Warwick. The party's white leaders in Virginia did not welcome African Americans, and by the 1890s the General Assembly had made it increasingly difficult for African Americans to vote or to have their votes accurately recorded. So strong had been the backlash among opponents of the bi-racial Readjuster Party that political cooperation between the races, as occurred in neighboring North Carolina in the 1890s, was no longer possible in Virginia. By the end of 1892 the Colored Farmers' Alliance had completely collapsed nationwide following violence in southern cotton fields. The Virginia alliance ceased to function, and Warwick moved across the state line to teach at Reedy Creek Institute in Littleton, North Carolina. He made an unsuccessful run for the Republican nomination for a seat in the North Carolina Senate later in the 1890s but then, like many other African Americans, gave up on politics and taught school in North Carolina for about forty years. During that decade white supremacists succeeded in driving African Americans almost entirely out of politics in Virginia.
Spring 1890 - Richard Humphreys has secured the services of William H. Warwick to serve as state organizer and lecturer in Virginia for the Colored Farmers' Alliance.
August 21–22, 1890 - Colored Farmers' Alliance representatives from around Virginia meet in Henrico County and found the Colored Farmers' Alliance and Cooperative Union of Virginia.
October 1890 - According to one account, about 10,000 Virginia farmers have joined the Colored Farmers' Alliance in twenty-five counties.
August 1891 - The Colored Farmers' Alliance and Cooperative Union of Virginia holds its convention in Richmond.
February 1892 - William H. Warwick attends the conference in Saint Louis that founds the People's, or Populist, Party.
Late 1892 - The Colored Farmers' Alliance, in Virginia and nationwide, collapses.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Tarter, B. The Colored Farmers' Alliance and Cooperative Union of Virginia. (2018, February 22). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Colored_Farmers_Alliance_and_Cooperative_Union_of_Virginia_The.
- MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent. "The Colored Farmers' Alliance and Cooperative Union of Virginia." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 22 Feb. 2018. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 7, 2017 | Last modified: February 22, 2018
Contributed by Brent Tarter, founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.