Stetson Kennedy October 5th, 1916 - August 27th, 2011
Stetson Kennedy was an author, folklorist, environmentalist, labor activist, and human rights advocate. He was also known for his infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1940s. Kennedy authored eight books, including Palmetto Country, Southern Exposure, and The Klan Unmasked.
In Kennedy's early years, he became one of the country's pioneering folklorists. As a teenager, he began gathering white and African American folklore material while he was collecting "a dollar down and dollar a week" accounts for his father, a furniture merchant. He left the University of Florida in 1937 to join the WPA Florida Writers' Project, and at the age of 21, was put in charge of folklore, oral history, and ethnic studies. While he was with the WPA, he oversaw the work of African American writer Zora Neal Hurston.
After World War II, Kennedy and another informant infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and related white supremacist groups, exposing their secrets, helping Georgia authorities revoke the Klan's corporate charter, and testifying against a fascist Klan offshoot known as the Columbians. Kennedy made public such information as secret code words and details of Klan rituals, including a stint where he supplied Klan secrets to the writers of the Superman radio program, culminating in a series of four episodes in which Superman battled the KKK.
A founding member and past president of the Florida Folklore Society, Kennedy was a recipient of the Florida Folk Heritage Award and the Florida Governor's Heartland Award, and was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. In addition to his passion for folklore, Kennedy has become friends with many literary giants, including Erskine Caldwell, who became so interested in his work during an essay competition, that he went on to edit Kennedy's book on Floridian folklore, Palmetto Country. While he was living in Paris in the mid 1950's, Jean Paul Sartre published his The Jim Crow Guide. Kennedy also maintained a close friendship with musician Woody Guthrie, who wrote numerous songs while staying at Beluthahatchee, Kennedy's home in Fruit Cove, FL.
Stetson Kennedy has been discovered and re-discovered by authors, young scholars, academics, film makers, and journalists alike. Until the very last days of his life, Kennedy continued to champion the causes that drove his decades of activism. His advice to young people was always to "pick a cause and stick to it." Kennedy's legacy lives on through his writings, Beluthahatchee Park, and the remarkable impact he made on all those who knew him.