Growing Antipathy and Antagonism between the White and Black Races: The Effect, Cause, and Cure, September 23, 1912
Economic opportunities for African Americans were far and few between by the turn of the 20th century. In the South, systems such as sharecropping, tenant farming, and penal servitude kept black workers economically indebted to their employers. In the North, the situation was not much brighter. Without proper training in technical skills, many African Americans who joined the "Great Migration" northward following the Civil War were unable to get industrial jobs. Even professions usually associated with African American employment were becoming scarce as industries such as hotel management increasingly closed positions to black applicants.
While louder voices like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois suggested self-education and social protest to improve this situation, the lesser-known James Samuel Stemons offered another viewpoint. The son of former slaves, Stemons devoted his life to finding a solution to the economic and political barriers African Americans faced. As he outlined in his September 23, 1912, speech to the Philadelphia Methodist Preachers' Meeting, he believed that African Americans had to both prove their worth as citizens by discouraging immoral behavior and fight for their economic rights by encouraging employers to hire black workers.
In order to achieve this goal, Stemons founded the Association for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities and the League of Civic and Political Reform (AEIO-LCPR) in 1910. The organization advertised the necessity of black labor, using influential white supporters as spokesmen, while at the same time condemning vice and crime in the black community. The AEIO-LCPR benefited from Stemons's lifetime of experience; he had campaigned against discriminatory economic policy throughout his life. Whether it was his stewardship of the short-lived Philadelphia Courant in 1906, his role as editor of his self-published Pilot, or his multiple private sector positions as a laborer, janitor, and post office worker, Stemons worked to improve economic and political opportunities for African Americans every day.
To Stemons, economic opportunity was key to achieving political and social equality. Increased job opportunities in the North would not only make it possible for northern blacks to improve their lot in life; it would also encourage black laborers to escape the oppression of the Jim Crow South. Through social reform, economic training, and job opportunity, Stemons hoped to pave the way for Americans to succeed based on hard work and perseverance rather than the color of their skin.
Timothy Golden, "James Samuel Stemons: History of an Unknown Laborer and Intellectual, 1890-1922" (BA thesis, Haverford College, 2007).
Matthew Lyons, "James Stemons: Working-Class Black Reformer," Pennsylvania Legacies 10, no. 2, Pennsylvania, African Americans, and Civil Rights (2010): 3-5.
Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).