James Stewart was a leader in Oklahoma City, state and national Civil Rights movement. He worked closely with Roscoe Dunjee, editor and publisher of the Black Dispatch, a newspaper which was put out weekly in Oklahoma.
James Edward Stewart was born on September 6, 1912, in Plano, Texas to Zena Thomas Stewart and Mary Magedeline Fegalee Stewart. The family moved to Oklahoma in 1916. Four years after the move, Stewart’s father died, leaving him to help support his family.
Stewart attended Orchard Park Elementary School and later Douglass High School. There he and noted author Ralph Ellison both played in the band and became good friends. The family relocated to Wichita, Kansas in 1928. There he enrolled in the tenth grade at Wichita High School East, and the following year transferred to Wichita High School North.
After graduating high school, he enrolled at Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University. After attending only one year, he moved to Oklahoma City and married Mae Belle Hayes in 1932. The two divorced in 1934 and Stewart married Mae Lois Layne on May 12, 1942.
Stewart found work at various hotels and clubs as waiter and custodian. After connecting with publisher Roscoe Dunjee, he began writing a weekly column, “Jimmy Says,” for the Black Dispatch. Because he was acquainted with a top official at Oklahoma Natural Gas Company, Stewart gained employment as a janitor in June 1937; in September 1940 he was named manager of the company’s eastside office Northeast Fourth Street.
He volunteered during World War II for the U.S. Marines in 1943. He was assigned to the Fifty-First Defense Battalion. He was honorably discharged in 1945.
He served as president of the Oklahoma City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as of the state chapter. Stewart served on the NAACP national board for eight three-year terms. Through his work with Dunjee and the Black Dispatch, his outreach extended across the state and nation. In July 1982, Stewart was elected chairman of the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. In 1984 Gov. George Nigh appointed him to the State Narcotics and Controlled Drug Commission. He was president of Oklahomans for Progress, which was dedicated to the elimination of inequities based on race.
Stewart received numerous awards including the Service to Mankind award from the Sertoma Club of Oklahoma City and in 1976 accepted the Golden Plate award from the NAACP. In 1980 a section of Northeast Fourth Street was named James E. Stewart Industrial Park. He was inducted into the Afro-American Hall of Fame by the Ntu Art Association (located at the Kirkpatrick Center in Oklahoma City) and in 1986 into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. James E. Stewart died on April 13, 1997.