Deeply impacted by the poor condition of his parishners and the inhabitants of Detroit itself, Reinhold became involved with social causes. One of his largest battles was against Henry Ford. Detroit boomed with industry in the early 1900s, especially the automobile industry. People flooded the city hoping to find work in the new factories, many owned by automobile tycoon Henry Ford. Henry Ford was considered to be a humanitarian because he paid high wages, kept a five-day workweek, and hired the handicapped. Niebuhr saw Ford differently. Ford could afford to pay high wages because he made huge profits. His five-day workweek was allowed though Ford’s mass production, which dehumanized workers and left no room for the older employees or unions. To combat Ford, Niebuhr spoke openly against Ford and his policies from the pulpit and in print. He allowed union organizers to hold forums in his church despite protests of the Detroit Board of Commerce. Niebuhr helped displaced workers find jobs to which they were suited. His disgust with Ford was the beginning of his rejection of the capitalist system.
With World War I ongoing, the European immigrant supply was halted and the automobile industry attracted many African American citizens with the promise of factory jobs. Reinhold quickly became involved in civil rights for the morality of it. He influenced others, like Charles Williams, in the Detroit community to become involved with the efforts for “workers rights, justice for blacks and peace movements.”
As World War I progressed, Reinhold Niebuhr began visiting stateside army camps with a denomination commission. Niebuhr did not become a chaplain as would seem appropriate of a minister of his time. He temporarily expressed regrets at his decision, but was soon disillusioned with World War I and war in general. He was a declared pacifist by 1923.
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