Question of the Week
Which African American activist was an editor of the Philadelphia Courant?
Answer: James Samuel Stemons
James Samuel Stemons was born in Clarksville, Tennessee in 1870 to former slave parents. Six years later he moved with his family to Kansas. In 1893, after being refused a job because of his race, Stemons set out for Boston to begin a crusade for African American rights.
Stemons wrote editorials, articles, and pamphlets promoting industrial opportunities for the African American as a solution to racial strife. He traveled extensively through New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio lecturing on the subject of race relations. He settled in Philadelphia around 1900. He supported himself with odd jobs, but eventually found steady employment with the clerk in the United States Post Office in Philadelphia, where he worked for most of his life.
However, Stemons's true passions were journalism and activism. In 1906 Stemons became the editor of the short-lived Philadelphia Courant, but he resigned later that year. In 1907 Stemons began publication of his own paper, The Pilot, with the financial backing of a local white philanthropist. The paper ran from January 1907 to March 1909, when it was suspended due to lack of operating funds.
Stemons campaigned on behalf of African Americans in the editorial columns of both newspapers and in the organizational arena. He corresponded with local politicians in the Democratic and Republican parties, and spoke on behalf of the latter on several occasions in local elections. In 1912 Stemons began working as field secretary for the Joint Organization of the Association for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities and the League of Civic and Political Reform in Philadelphia, whose aim was to "suppress Corner Lounging, Rowdyism, Public Indecency, Vicious Resorts and Political Crookedness among Colored Citizens," and to "Broaden the opportunities of Colored Citizens for Honest Labor at Living Wages."
Stemons married twice and continued as a writer late into life. He died in 1959 at Philadelphia's Graduate Hospital.
Image: A Cry from the Oppressed: A Plea for the Industrial Rights of the Colored Race in the Northern States by James S. Stemons, printed matter (1897)
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.