Lee Stern, Quaker pacifist and co-founder of Peace Brigades International

Published by Brent Patterson on

Lee Stern was one of the co-founders of Peace Brigades International.

Daniel N. Clark writes that Stern was at the founding meeting on Grindstone Island (on unceded Algonquin territory in Ontario, Canada) in August-September 1981 when he held the role of “Peace Secretary of New York Yearly Meeting of Friends”

Clark also notes in his overview of the early years of PBI that in late 1981, “Lee Stern was also working to establish a local brigade in New York City to respond to Ku Klux Klan activities and other violence there through the Alternatives to Violence Project.”

Stern’s effort was in accordance with the founding statement of PBI that included the line: “We call upon individuals and groups to enlist their services in the work of local, regional and international peace brigades.”

Stern’s biographical overview can be found on the Lee Stern Papers webpage of the TriCollege Libraries Archives and Manuscripts website:

“Lee Donald Stern, born in 1915 at Cleveland, Ohio, was a Quaker pacifist. While studying at Case Institute of Technology, he joined the Ahimsa Farm Nonviolence Training Center near Cleveland [some sources say he was a founder in 1940 of Ahimsa Farm], which promoted pacifism and racial integration.

Stern was a conscientious objector during World War II. He refused to report to Civilian Public Service as ordered, and was imprisoned as a result, in Milan (Michigan) from December 1942 through January 1946.

While in prison, he refused to follow rules on racial segregation and sat with black prisoners during meals. His actions, along with those of other conscientious objectors eventually led to integration in the federal prison system.

Stern was with the Bruderhof in Paraguay in 1948-1950, then with Pendle Hill in Pennsylvania in 1951-1956, and the Winterbrook Community in Ontario (Canada) in 1956?-1957. He worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Nyack (New York) as an administrative assistant in 1958?-1968, where he led, circa 1960, a successful campaign against fall-out shelters in that city (he was also jailed for refusing to take cover during an air raid drill).

In 1962 he was jailed for participating in integration in Baltimore (Maryland). Stern was a prominent member of New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), serving as administrator of its Peace and Social Action Program from 1968 to 1980, and as its Peace Secretary in 1980-1981.

Stern was active in protesting the Vietnam War. He undertook an 84-day fast in 1965 to protest the U.S bombings in Vietnam. Stern participated in a 1967 Easter Sunday pilgrimage to Canada to deliver medical supplies destined for both North and South Vietnam.

His interest in nonviolence led him to participate in many peace groups and actions, including the Quaker Project on Community Conflict, through which he trained hundreds in peacekeeping and conflict resolution skills. Stern was one of the originators of the Children’s Creative Response to Conflict and a founder of Alternatives to Violence and of Peace Brigades International in 1981.

From 1989 he taught alternatives to violence in Maryland prisons.

Stern was married to Ruth Hoeniger; the couple had two children. Stern died of cancer in 1992 in Sandy Spring, Maryland.”

As Peace Brigades International approaches its 40th anniversary in 2021, we remember the key role Lee Stern played in our founding.

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