In the early 1900s, the Philadelphia labor movement struggled to overcome the obstacles of the city’s close alliance between politicians and businessmen. Few workers experienced an increase in benefits and wages, let alone the formation and recognition of a union. Many ethnic groups suffered from biased hiring policies and corrupt owners. The African American community in Philadelphia also endured discriminating hiring policies in most skilled and unskilled job positions. Through an analysis of a speech by James Samuel Stemons and a letter from Joseph Fels, students will gain multiple perspectives of business in the city.
James Samuel Stemons spoke out against this injustice through his work as a journalist and speaker. Stemons worked for two African American newspapers, The Philadelphia Courant and The Pilot, and spoke at various Philadelphia churches on the necessity of judging men and women based on their ability. He believed that members of both the white and black communities had their share of people who contributed to society in positive and negative ways. Stemons challenged people of all races to be better citizens and promote a positive image of their community in order eliminate any bias and prejudice.
Joseph Fels owned a soap company in Philadelphia and, unlike most businessmen in the city, believed in raising wages and speaking out on behalf of the working class. Fels did not write or speak on the issue of race and ethnicity, but he championed the idea of fair labor dealings. His company promoted a family atmosphere that benefited all of his workers from bottom to top.
Fels and Stemons did not champion the same cause but worked for greater rights for those disenfranchised laborers who suffered under the corruption of city politics in the early twentieth century.