In memoriam: Joffre Stewart
From Hard Crackers by Max G. Bernard
Devastated. My long time friend Joffre Stewart has died. Joffre, a long time anarchist and pacifist (after serving in the military during World War 2) was a poet and was referred to in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. [Ginsberg was taken by Stewart when they met years ago at a gathering in San Francisco. In his poem “Howl” Ginsberg refers to Stewart as a man “with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark skin passing / out incomprehensible leaflets.” Stewart says, “Later I met Ginsberg again, and I said I did not think my leaflets were incomprehensible. He said that was a reference to his state of mind and that it had nothing to do with the leaflets themselves.”].
He was active at various times in the IWW, Peacemakers, and the War Resister’s League. He was a regular contributor to the Bulletin of the Social Revolutionary Anarchist Federation (SRAF). He attended, as did I, Roosevelt University. from which he received a B.A. in 1952 In June 1948 he was arrested in downtown Chicago for attempting to get a haircut at a barbershop in downtown Chicago which would not serve African-Americans. [Some at Roosevelt said he had “embarrassed” the university, but others supported his battle against segregated barbershops. The controversy led to the election, in the Roosevelt student government of a slate led by Harold Washington (who became student body president) , later to become Chicago’s first African-American mayort. He was an early participant in the Beat movement. He was barred from the Roosevelt University building at one point because as a speaker at a student organization program he burned an American, an Israeli, and a UN flag to signify his rejection of government, and a number of student groups subsequently made it almost a point of honor to invite him to speak at least once a year to defy the ban, quickly sneaking him in nd out of the building. On April 29, 1994, he was arrested while trying to attend a poetry reading at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in downtown Evanston, Illinois, after being mistaken for a vagrant (as if a vagrant had no right to attend a poetry reading, what a messed up world we live in), and spent 11 days in jail. He at times worked as a doorman at various bars and music venues. I first met him in 1965 and we had many friends and interests (both political/anti-political and literary) in common. He was a frequent overnight guest on my couch back in the 1960’s during the years that I customarily always left my door unlocked for him and several other people frequently in need of temporary lodging on the northside of Chicago. That led to numerous fascinating all night conversations with him from time to time. He had an amazingly broad range of experiences. He was well known for attending a wide variety of protest demonstrations and public meetings and passing out handwritten or photocopied versions of his poems and statements and for submitting long letters to various publications with the admonition to “print all or nothing at all” as he loathed being edited. His book Poems and Poetry was published by the Every Now and Then Publishing Cooperative in 1982. He was a unique individual and the world will be a far sadder place without him in it. Most of all I will miss his smile and his laugh.
There will be a wake for him at Taylor Funeral Home on 79th Street on Tuesday, March 19th from 6-7 PM.”