James Samuel Stemons papers


Collection MSS012

1894-1922
(1.4 Linear feet 1.4 linear feet, 4 boxes, )

Summary Information

Repository
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Creator
Stemons, James Samuel
Title
James Samuel Stemons papers
ID
MSS012
Date [inclusive]
1894-1922
Extent
1.4 Linear feet 1.4 linear feet, 4 boxes,
Author
Finding aid prepared by Monique Bourque and Sarah Newhouse
Sponsor
This collection was processed during the Digital Center for Americana Project Phase II, which was funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.
Language
English
Abstract
James Samuel Stemons was born in Clarksville, Tennessee, and settled in Philadelphia ca. 1900. A postal worker, journalist and writer, he served as the editor of two short-lived African American newspapers: The Philadelphia Courant and  The Pilot. He was also active in several civic organizations. An outspoken advocate for equal industrial opportunities for blacks, he lectured and published extensively on race relations. He served as field secretary of the Joint Organization of the Association for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities and the League of Civic and Political Reform. The collection documents Stemons's personal and professional life, and includes correspondence, printed materials, writings, clippings, a photocopy of a marraige licence to Arizona L. Cleaver, and the manuscript of his unpublished autobiographical novel.

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Biographical/Historical note

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. In Cleveland he founded the Industrial Rights League, a church-related organization for the promotion of equal opportunities for African Americans in industry. He settled in Philadelphia in ca. 1900. In 1900 Stemons wrote a semi-autobiographical novel, "Jay Ess" but was never successful in getting it published. In 1906 he had privately published a short work, "The Key," which set forth a plan for creating harmony between races through equalization of opportunities in industrial employment.

Stemons supported himself in the early 1900s at a series of menial jobs, primarily janitorial. In 1908 he became a clerk in the United States Post Office in Philadelphia, where he apparently remained until his retirement. He joined the Mutual Association of Post Office Employees, which was formed in 1913, and during that year he served as its director and as an organizer. After this he participated little in the union. He felt that union activities took up too much time and interfered with his work as a journalist and civic activist, which he considered to be his real vocation.

In 1906 Stemons became the editor of the short-lived Philadelphia Courant. Disputes with one of the owners over the direction and editorial content of the paper prompted his resignation 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." It is not clear how long his association with this organization lasted.

Stemons was also interested in gadgetry. Between 1906 and 1909 he invented a street indicator for use on trolley cars and attempted to obtain a patent for it; he was apparently unsuccessful. He also attempted unsuccessfully to patent a black doll.

In 1906, Stemons married a widow named Mary Whaley, whom he had known for some time. She died in 1914, after which Stemons's sister, Mary Stemons Johnson, and their mother came to live with him in Philadelphia.

Little information is available about Stemons' life after 1922. In 1928 he married a thirty year old teacher from Hannibal, Missouri named Arizona Leedonia Cleaver. We do know that he kept writing after his marriage. In 1942 he published a pamphlet about racial stereotyping and in 1952 he wrote a book about the Korean War. Stemons died in 1959 at Philadelphia's Graduate Hospital.

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Scope and Contents note

The James Samuel Stemons Papers document the efforts of an African American writer to establish a reputation for himself as a spokesman for his race, and his frustration with the lack of recognition accorded him by Philadelphia newspapers, newspaper editors, politicians, and clergymen.

The bulk of the personal correspondence in Series One consists of letters between Stemons and his sister and confidante, Mary Stemons Johnson. This correspondence traces the development of Stemons's thought on particular issues, his plans for his career, and his participation in civic organizations.

This series also provides considerable personal information about Stemons, as he freely discussed with his sister his relationship with his wife, his dislike of a wide variety of individuals, and his efforts to find a cure for the neurasthenia and nervous depression which plagued him. In addition he offered copious advice to Mary on her life and on the essays which she wrote for The Pilot. Most clearly illustrated are Stemons's struggles to establish  The Pilot as a leading black paper and himself as a social commentator. Some of the correspondence is from well-known social and political figures such as Booker T. Washington, Woodrow Wilson and Marian Harland. Better represented are local politicians, journalists and clergymen such as Henry W. Wilbur, general secretary of the General Conference of the Religious Society of Friends, and Rolfe Cobleigh, Associate Editor of the  Congregationalist and Christian World. These letters are of interest in the examination both of Stemons's personal ambitions, and of the interplay of religious leaders and organizations and the press in Philadelphia politics in the early years of the twentieth century.

Also notable are a series of letters between Stemons and U.S. Postmaster, Philadelphia, Col. George E. Kemp. These date from 1900-1922 and are concerned with Stemons's demotion from special clerk to regular clerk and with discrimination against blacks in the postal service.

Series Two, Family Correspondence, is of value primarily in illuminating the life of Mary Stemons Johnson. Of particular interest are letters between Mary and her estranged husband, John T. Johnson. The letters in this series provide information about Mary S. Johnson's close friendships with other women as well as furnishing some details about the extended Stemons family.

Series Three, Miscellaneous Papers, consists primarily of flyers and carbon copies of statements associated with organizations of which Stemons was a member or with which he had some connection, such as delivering an address to members. These materials have little informational value but are of some visual interest. The fragments of correspondence contained in this series are of interest to analysis of Stemons's views on race relations in particular. Of greatest interest in this series are the miscellaneous personal documents, which provide details on Stemons's life not available elsewhere.

Much of Series Four, Writings and Speeches, consists of the manuscript of Stemons's novel "Jay Ess." While it is not certain how much of the hero's experiences are fictionalized representations of Stemons's own, it seems clear that Stemons infused his hero with ambitions and viewpoints very similar if not identical to his own.

Oversized materials include fragments of writings by Stemons, some of which also appear elsewhere in the collection, a printed copy of a 1909 address by Stemons to the A.M.E. Preachers' meeting, and an undated broadside from the Mail Order School, Denver, Colorado.

The newspaper clippings in Series Four are of interest in that they include several acerbic exchanges between Stemons and the editor of the Philadelphia American over local politics and Stemons's loyalty to the Republican Party. The speeches provide relatively polished, public statements of Stemons's views and prescriptions, the development of which may be observed elsewhere in the collection.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

 The Historical Society of Pennsylvania 2012 March 13

1300 Locust Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19107
215-732-6200

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

The collection was acquired through purchases in 1973 and 1974.

Processing Information note

This collection was processed by Monique Bourque in August 1990 and both the biographical note and the scope and contents note in this finding aid are hers. The box and folder inventory was created in March, 2012.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials note

At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania:

Below the Belt by James Samuel Stemons. Philadelphia: Reading Press, 1942.

A Cry From the Oppressed: A Plea for the Industrial Rights of the Colored Race in the Northern States by James Samuel Stemons. Buffalo: Tent and Temple Co., 1897.

The Korean Mess, and Some Correctives by James Samuel Stemons. Boston: Chapman and Grimes, 1952.

A Movement to Improve the Status of Colored Employees in the Philadelphia Postal Service: "Come Let Us Reason Together," A Message to Every Colored Employee by James Samuel Stemons. Philadelphia: The Summer Press, 1922.

The Key: A tangible solution to the Negro problem by James Samuel Stemons. New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1916.

The North Holds the Key to the Race Question, by James Samuel Stemons. Philadelphia : Sumner Press, 1907.

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Controlled Access Headings

Subject(s)

  • African American civic leaders--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.
  • African American inventors--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.
  • African American novelists--Pennsylania--Philadelphia.
  • African American women journalists--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.
  • African Americans--Civil rights--History.
  • African Americans--Employment.
  • Discrimination in employment.
  • Joint Organization of the Association for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities and the League of Civic and Political Reform.
  • United States Postal Service--Officials and employees.

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Collection Inventory

I. Personal Correspondence 

Scope and Contents note

SERIES I. PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE, 1894-1922 and n.d., (.75 ft.). This series is arranged chronologically.

The series consists of letters between Stemons and his sister, Mary Stemons Johnson, and letters to Stemons from friends and business associates. In some cases Stemons's initial letters or replies are included.

Box Folder

 1894 October 10, 1899 September 18, 1900 July 12-1901 April 24 

1 1

 1901 May 2-1902 December 26 

1 2

 1903 January 5-September 21 

1 3

 1904 November 14-1905 July 30 

1 4

 1905 August 7-December 31 

1 5

 1906 January 18-April 20 

1 6

 1906 April 22-December 27 

1 7

 1907 January 2-February 7, undated 

1 8

 1907 February 8-April 2 

1 9

 1907 April 6-July 27 

1 10

 1907 August 30-December 27 

1 11

 1908 February 4-December 29 

1 12

 1909 January 25-July 29 

1 13

 1909 August 11-October 25 

1 14

 1910 July 8-December 18 

1 15

 1911 March 1-December 12 

1 16

 1912 January 13- June 26 

1 17

 1912 July 1-December 17 

1 18

 1913 January 5-March 31 

1 19

 1913 April 1-May 13 

1 20

 1913 May 14-October 31 

2 1

 1913 November 2-December 30 

2 2

 1914 January 1-March 30 

2 3

 1914 April 2-May 14 

2 4

 1914 May 15-June 30 

2 5

 1914 July 1-October 4 

2 6

 1917 July 13-1920 September 28 

2 7

 1920 October 2-1921 November 4 

2 8

 1921 November 22-1922 March 2 

2 9

 1922 March 3-May 30 

2 10

 1922 June 1-September 24 

2 11

 1922 October 3-November 20 

2 12

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II. Family Correspondence 

Scope and Contents note

SERIES II. FAMILY CORRESPONDENCE, 1901-1912 and n.d. (.25 ft.). This series is arranged alphabetically by correspondent.

The bulk of this series is composed of letters to and from Mary Stemons Johnson. Other correspondents include her husband, John T. Johnson, James Samuel Stemons's wife Mary (Mamie) Whaley Stemons, and other friends and family members.

Box Folder

Mary S. Johnson and John T. Johnson ca. 1901-1907 May 15 

2 13

Mary S. Johnson and John T. Johnson 1912 June 16-1914 October 8 

2 14

Mary S. Johnson and Harriet Stemons 1905 February 2-1906 September 25, undated 

2 15

Mary S. Johnson and Harriet Stemons 1907 February 21-1910 December 25 

2 16

Mary S. Johnson 1912 February 20-1914 October 3 

2 17

Mary S. Johnson and Katie M. Poston 1906 August 13-1907 March 31 

2 18

Mary S. Johnson and Katie M. Poston 1907 April 29-December 2 

2 19

Mary S. Johnson and Katie M. Poston 1912 March 21-1914 March 30 

2 20

Mary S. Johnson and Nora E. Hulings Siegel 1906 January 6-August 14, undated 

2 21

Mary S. Johnson and Nora E. Hulings Siegel 1907 January 1-1910 December 20 

2 22

Mary S. Johnson and Nora E. Hulings Siegel 1911 April 17-1914 August 31 

2 23

Mary S. Johnson and Mamie Whaley Stemons 1905 October 1-1906 December 25 

2 24

Mary S. Johnson and Mamie Whaley Stemons 1907 January 18, 1908 November 27, 1912 February 7, undated 

2 25

Fragments and undated materials undated 

2 26

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III. Miscellaneous Papers 

Scope and Contents note

SERIES III. MISCELLANEOUS PAPERS, 1903-1920 and n.d. (.25 ft.).

The series contains correspondence fragments, personal documents relating to Stemons and to other family members such as a photocopy of the application for a marriage license filed by James S. Stemons and his second wife, Arizona L. Cleaver. Miscellaneous personal documents include notes taken by an unknown person from a 1979 interview with Cleaver, and materials relating to Stemons being charged in 1912 with assault and battery. Also present are miscellaneous business cards, notes, an incomplete application for the United States Civil Service Examination in the name of Ailenwill S. Jackson, and flyers and leaflets from organizations such as the Association for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities and the League of Civic Reform, the Socialist Literary Society, and the Southern League Beneficial Association.

Box Folder

Personal documents 1903-1918, undated 

3 1

James Stemons and Arizona L. Cleaver application for marriage license 1928 June 1 

3 2

Organization papers: Association for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities and League of Civic Reform 1911, undated 

3 3

Organization papers: Socialist Literary Society ca. 1914, undated 

3 4

Organization papers: Home Mission Week 1912, undated 

3 5

Organization papers: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Southern League Beneficial Association 1920, undated 

3 6

Organization papers: Miscellaneous organizations undated 

3 7

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IV. Writings and Speeches 

Scope and Contents note

SERIES IV. WRITINGS AND SPEECHES, 1900-1922 and n.d. (.5 ft.).

This series is arranged by record type. Writings are arranged alphabetically by subject or organization for which they were produced. Speeches are arranged alphabetically by the organization or occasion for which they were intended. Writings and publications not by Stemons have been placed at the end of the writings, as has a folder of newspaper clippings which includes articles about African Americans by a number of authors and letters by Stemons to the Philadelphia American, with the editor's replies. Writings include a manuscript of Stemons's semi-autobiographical novel, "Jay Ess," of which much of chapters one through four are missing.

Box Folder

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, to page 58 1900 

3 8

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 59-100 1900 

3 9

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 101-152 1900 

3 10

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 153-186 1900 

3 11

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 187-209 1900 

3 12

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 210-250 1900 

3 13

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 251-306 1900 

3 14

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 307-340 1900 

3 15

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 341-384 1900 

3 16

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 385-420 1900 

3 17

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 421-459 1900 

3 18

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 460-505 1900 

3 19

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 506-550 1900 

3 20

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 551-594 1900 

3 21

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 595-629 1900 

3 22

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 630-666 1900 

3 23

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 667-700 1900 

3 24

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 701-728 1900 

3 25

Writings: Manuscript of "Jay Ess" with notes by Stemons, pages 729-754 1900 

3 26

Writings: Association for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities undated 

4 1

Writings: "Early History of Negroes in Business in Philadelphia" undated 

4 2

Writings: Miscellaneous and industrial relations undated 

4 3

Writings: Miscellaneous ca. 1903, 1910, undated 

4 4
Oversize

Writings: Miscellaneous 1909, undated 

1
Box Folder

Writings: "The Unmentionable Crime" 1903 

4 5

Writings: Race relations and "The Negro in Politics" 1910, undated 

4 6

Writings: Essays for The Pilot by Mary S. Johnson 1907, undated 

4 7

Writings: Miscellaneous publications 1897, 1905, 1907, undated 

4 8

Writings: Newspaper clippings 1904-1920, undated 

4 9

Writings: Fragments undated 

4 10

Speeches: Association for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities 1910 December 25 

4 11

Speeches: Baptist Ministers' Conference ca. 1909 

4 12

Speeches: Lincoln Conference 1909 April 3 

4 13

Speeches: Methodist Preachers' Meeting 1912 

4 14

Speeches: Pennsylvania Congress of Postal Employees 1922 October 10 

4 15

Speeches: Philadelphia A.M.E. Preachers' Meeting 1909 October 25 

4 16

Speeches: Private conference and Spite Conference (incomplete) 1910 

4 17

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