Tributes, Messages and accolades for Stetson Kennedy

SENATOR BILL NELSON In the early l940s, Erskine Caldwell enlisted Stetson Kennedy to write a book in the American Folkways Series. The result was “Palmetto County,” which was widely acclaimed and is still in print today. In St. Augustine in 1992 a tri‐state meeting of the Florida, Alabama, and Georgia historical societies celebrated the 50th anniversary of the book’s writing.

PETE SEEGER Stetson—you are fantastic! I have read and re‐read your letter and the enclosed pages {about the Stetson Kennedy Foundation’s “Fellow Man & Mother Earth” program}. They make me more optimistic for the future. Keep on, keep on!

NORA GUTHRIE All of us here at the Woody Guthrie Foundation want to wish you the happiest of birthdays! You were a great source of inspiration for my father.—his Beluthahatchee muse, your personal qualities, and forthright political activities were mirrored , applauded and anchored in his own songs, some of which were even written about you. They reflect your depth of commitment, your insight, your knowledge, your humor, your heroics and intrigues, and even your hospitality and friendship…How many times I see “Beluthahatchee” scribbled at the bottom of a lyric, or a poem of his. We wish you joy and contentment, for behind each step you’ve taken, there’s a better road for all of us to walk down.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON Thank you for sharing your ideas and suggestions. Bill and I welcome your thoughts. They will be carefully considered as Bill begins to implement his Agenda for Change in America. DORA: It was nice meeting you at the Florida Folk Festival. I want to thank you for the talk you gave with Arlo. That was the largest crowd I’ve ever seen at that tent. I suspect a lot of the folks stopped by to see what Arlo was about these days. But I hope they heard what I did when I listened to your stories about Woody Guthrie. It became apparent listening to you that you were more than just an associate with Woody, you were compatriots. Contact with people like of hopelessness and despair come over me …I just don’t know what it takes to make people see that this is their land, their responsibility, and that they are choosing to make it the Thanks for the inspiration, stay well, and keep the good energies flowing!

JULIAN BOND, president, NAACP: Thank you for offering the NAACP the 2,000 pages of un‐redacted and un‐censored FBI files on the Harry T. Moore murder. This is an invaluable resource—you are right to give it to the NAACP and we intend to have it available—as part of our archive at the Library of Congress—to scholars, researchers and journalists for all time. This is a great gesture on your part, in keeping with the valiant role you have played for decades in the struggle for civil rights.

DR. ADAM HERBERT, Chancellor, Florida Board of Regents: On behalf of the faculty of the University of North Florida and the Board of Regents of the State University System of Florida, I am very pleased to express out desire to bestow upon you the Honorary Degree, Doctor of Humane Letters. This is the highest honor that the University confers and represents our recognition of your outstanding and distinguished achievements as an internationally recognized author, folklorist, and Civil Rights Movement leader.

DR. GEORGE BEDELL, Director, DuPont Foundation; University Press of Florida: In your own quiet way you’ve kept the flame burning all these years. What a fabulous contribution you’ve made to justice all your fabled life! You’ve been an inspiration to several generations. DON: Today I read with great excitement a two‐page story about your exploits while you have been on this planet….I grew up in the Piedmont mountains of North Carolina, and as a child had heard grown‐ups speak of you.. I remember the bus station, the segregated water fountains, the restrooms, the ‘back of the bus’, and the chaingangs of black men and hearing my uncle whisper “hot damn, I wish one of them would make a run for it! I bet could get him from here!’ But my mother would always have me carry a bucket of cool water to the trustee. I would think, “God, I’m glad I’m white!” And after all these years I know that had I been born black the white men would have been in deep shit. I joined the Marines where the only color is green as long as you were white, five days past my seventeenth birthday. The black “grunts” knew I could be counted on to fight redneck “peckers” with them if it came down to it, and I still will. I have been a law enforcement officer here in Palm Beach County, Florida for twenty‐three years. It seems there were more bigots then than now, or at least more open about it. SOMETHING is working. And I think YOU were the catalyst and the “grunt” that made that something happen. Sports figures hit home runs or not, actors pretend as they may, and politicians no matter how much money they generate, are NOT heroes. A hero goes out of his way and sustains the effort no matter what the personal cost to help those who cannot help themselves. A hero is unflinching when bombarded with flak. If there was EVER a HERO on this planet Earth, Mr. Kennedy you are that Hero. May you live as long as you wish and may all your wishes come true.

REV A. DALE STEWART, president, Interfaith Alliance of Florida: Your winsome nature has won the friendship of all who have come to know you. Your writing has brought to life folklore and oral history in such a way as to win the admiration of your peers and the thanks of generations yet unborn. Your concern for all God’s children, especially those who have been discriminated against because of color, creed, or culture, has won their respect and ours. You passion and persistence as an investigative infiltrator, witness and reporter against terrorism has given us courage to continue to stand against bigotry and intolerance in whatever form. Recognizing your gifts to all humanity, and especially to our State, the Interfaith Alliance of Florida joins in celebrating your presence among us as a living national treasure.

F. WILLIAM LING, Executive Office of the President: Sargent Shriver asked me to thank you for your letters concerning the Community Action Agency in Jacksonville. The Office of Economic Opportunity is seriously concerned about this situation, and our Office of Inspection is now conducting an investigation of this agency.

BOB HALL, Southern Exposure magazine: At the birthing of our magazine in l973, long lists of prospective names were prepared. What to call a journal that challenged and criticized the region, yet embraced it as our home. It wasn’t long before the name Southern Exposure emerged as the obvious choice. Not only did the words carry the double message we wanted, they carried on the tradition of the muckraking journalism embodied in Stetson’s original Southern Exposure — a tradition that links analysis to action, that tells the truth and makes clear the imperative for change… We chose the right person to follow. He is a freedom fighter, patriot and rebel, investigator and truth‐teller, a foot soldier and leader in the larger movement for a more humane planet.

SENATOR CLAUDE PEPPER I warmly appreciate your helping us to victory. The results of this election are convincing enough that the people of Florida know how to judge accurately political tricks and to resist and repudiate them. If this were not so, our battle would have been lost….We have accomplished a significant victory. It has far reaching effects at home and abroad and your contribution to it is of greater importance than you may have thought.

DR. SAMUEL PROCTOR, University of Florida: Stetson Kennedy has told me about the oral history tapes that his students produced (at UNF}…We would be very pleased to add to our collection the tapes and transcripts that Mr. Kennedy’s program produced. I am sure that they are all of high quality…and would be of great value to students, faculty, and others doing research in Florida history.

ELLIS ARNALL Governor of Georgia: Thank you so much for your letter and the enclosed brief {for revocation of the Klan’s corporate charter}. I am pleased to have this, and am taking the liberty of forwarding it to the Attorney General.

EUGENE COOK, Attorney General {Georgia}: May I express my appreciation to you and to Stetson Kennedy for the very valuable information you have furnished me relating to the Ku Klux Klan. We are putting a great deal of this information to profitable use. I have called upon the Insurance Commissioner to investigate the insurance features of the organization, and advised him that unless he does so it will be my responsibility to do it.

DANIEL DUKE, assistant attorney general, Georgia: Dear stet—Your letter of March 9, 1948 informing me of the visual exhibit of fascist propaganda which the Anti‐Nazi League is preparing is acknowledged with thanks. It is true that two of the whips used by the Easy Point {Klan} floggers are in the evidence room at the courthouse of Fulton county. The whip which we {tip from SK} located under the house in West End was left in the Attorney General’s office.

JOHN EDGAR HOOVER, director, FBI: Please be advised that the letter which you transmitted to the Attorney General on January 15, 1944, has been referred to this Bureau, Your interest in writing the Department of Justice in this regard {KKK} is appreciated….It is suggested that if you have any information in your possession which you deem to be of interest to this Bureau that you communicate directly with the Special Agent in charge of our Miami Field Division.

DR, ROBERT INGALLS, Department of History, USF: I greatly appreciate your sending me a signed copy of your After Appomattox; How the South Won the War. As you may have guessed after listening to my remarks at the Library reception, I have the greatest respect for you and your work. I’m glad you decided to place your collection at USF, and I look forward to sharing it with students.

FRANK MCALLISTER, Advisory Council CIO War Labor Board : Stetson‐‐You will be interested to kn ow that the President of the Senate in introducing the poll tax repeal bill made up his speech entirely of excerpts lifted bodily from your report "Plain Facts About the Poll Tax." ...We got considerable satisfaction out of knowing that this report furnished the ammunition for the repeal forces. You did a good job and we are arranging to have the report printed and circulated throughout the remaining sates requiring the poll tax as a prerequisite for voting. BETH, secretary to Dr. George S. Mitchell, CIO/PAC: What do you think of the poll tax repeal?! (Governor Ellis} Arnall may really be a good man. Did you collect all the facts?... I’ve heard the reprinting of your article {in Southern Patriot magazine, (exposing the “Christian American” conspiracy to prevail upon state legislatures to adopt “right to work” constitutional amendments outlawing the union shop} is up to 125,000. You are good! I’ve addressed over a thousand of them and like you proportionately less.

DR. GEORGE S. MITCHELL, SE director, CIO/PAC: I think your article (for repeal of poll tax as prerequisite for voting} is grand. ..I have written to Survey Graphic and asked them for the price of l,000 reprints to distribute to local union PACs throughout the South.

JOHN Y. COLE, Center for the Book, Library of Congress: A Florida native, Mr. Kennedy has made a major contribution to the literature and folk culture of the state and to human rights issues as well. He has done so through his own books…and through his personal activities and dedication to preserving and publicizing Florida’s folk heritage. Kennedy was honored at the Library of Congress in l995 at the Center for the Book program “Amassing American Stuff: The New Deal Arts Collections”….He is both a national and a Florida “living treasure.”

CONGRESSMAN ANDER CRENSHAW Stetson Kennedy was born in Jacksonville in l9l6 and spent his lifetime contributing through his writings to Florida literature, folk culture, and human rights. It would be a fitting recognition of his body of work to include him in the Florida Artists Hall of Fame…to join writers like Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, with whom he had work‐related connections.

DR. ANN HENDERSON, director, Florida Humanities Council: “…soon I was talking to a very much alive writer, eager to share his love of the land and the peoples of Florida…his love for the traditions, the hidden corners and rhythms of our state. Few know these qualities better than Stetson Kennedy… few have been able to write as well about Florida….I must mention Mr. Kennedy’s long‐time commitment to human rights and equality…. Through his investigations of the Ku Klux Klan and the assassination of Harry T. Moore, and his championship of the rights of workers here and abroad, Mr. Kennedy worked for a better world and stood apart from many of the prejudices of his generation. ..his love for our communities and landscapes are a great resource for those who want to develop a deeper attachment to our state.

SENATOR JIM KING I want the Senate to please stand and recognize an individual who moves like a giant, not only here in the State of Florida , but across the country—none other than Stetson Kennedy. Here is a man, ladies and gentlemen, who at age 88 has a mind sharper than mine ever was. Here is a man who authored famous books,…who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and testified in courtroom after courtroom against the Klan and Jim Crow. He has always been a fighter. He has always been gifted as an artist from the standpoint of his writings. But more importantly, he has been a godsend as a human being, to teach all of us the compassion that we must feel one toward another. JOHN DOAR, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division: Thank you for your letter of March 29, 1965, offering help in the current effort against the Ku Klux Klan. Your special background is of value in this effort, and your suggestions have been given serious consideration. If, in the event, you can be of any further help, you can rest assured that we will call upon you.

JEAN FITZGERALD In the discipline of literature, Stetson Kennedy stands out as an individual possessed of boundless energy and talent, unending courage, and an unusually broad spectrum of interests. His work over more than 65 years, beginning with his discovery and preservation of invaluable elements of Florida folklore, and continuing through his long career as an author and lecturer, have brought great cr to Florida. PAM KWAZU: I just wanted to let you know what a wonderful influence you were on my life. In early 1970 you allowed my boyfriend and me to stay on your property in our travel trailer…I was pregnant and 17 at the time…You were so kind and talked to me as an adult, sharing your life. I know sometimes we plant seeds and have no idea what or even if they blossom. I left with your book Jim Crow Guide and your kindness in my heart. I went back to school and work now in public health. My husband of 23 years is from Nigeria. I have five children and have attempted to give them the values you gave me. I am really blessed to have encountered you at that time in my life. Thank you again.

PEG McINTYRE stories. I was especially happy to see you looking chipper, walking strongly, and speaking wittily. Your desire to leave your house {as a writers and artists workshop} is a beautiful idea! I’m sure any writer will write a better poem or book with your spirit hovering over him.

DR. BRUCE SHAPIRO, Department of Journalism, Yale: It was a pleasure to discover your Stetson Kennedy website, and learn that Mr. Kennedy is so vigorously engaged. As a journalist who writes about civil rights and civil liberties I’ve long admired his work and regard him as a role model; all the more because so few writers have so effectively combined muckraking with such deep understanding of culture. (Nominated SK for Fellow, Society of Professional Journalists.) BOB: This letter doesn’t begin to do justice to all you have done for us.. I’m so grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to meet and talk and for the rich legacy you’ve made available for all Americans.

FREDERICK G. RUFFNER, JR., Council of Florida Libraries: I’m grateful that I was able to play a small role in endorsing your nomination. It’s not often in life that I have the honor of recommending someone whose life work has been as distinguished and hard fought as yours.

DR. MARGARET WILSON, Center for Labor Research, FIU: Stetson Kennedy is a remarkable individual and one who has had a profound impact on Florida’s cultural, literary, and political scene for almost seventy years…The folklore materials gathered by the WPA Florida Writers Project under his guidance were among the most significant of this groundbreaking national undertaking. The numerous awards and conferences arranged to honor his ongoing influence and achievements attest to the breadth and depth of his contributions.

DR. PEGGY BULGER Director, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress: When I first met Stetson in l978 I was serving as Florida’s first Folk Arts coordinator. I interviewed him extensively about his work during the WPA, and then realized that his work was far‐reaching and continuing. I wrote my PhD dissertation on Stetson and his life of using folklore for political change. Stetson has been an advocate for human rights and environmental conservation since his days as a teenager. His work will live on long after he is gone, but we need to recognize him today, while he is still living.

CARMEN SNYDER , Student:: I appreciate the time that you took for a phone interview with me and my mother. Your books give me the reason for why it is important to question. Your bravery and willingness to question have made a difference in many lives, including my own.

STEVE MOUCHARD In October I was in Bradenton, Florida on my honeymoon. While there I heard you on a radio show, speaking about the Harry T. Moore {assassination} case. Ironically, I was reading Benjamin Botkin’s Lay My Burden Down. I am a writer of little or no renown. ..I have become very interested in the history of …racism, particularly in the 20th century. I really feel that your books can be an integral part of my learning process. I know there probably isn’t a lot I can do to help you in your pursuit of justice, on behalf of Mr. Moore, and on behalf of all victims of prejudice. I want you to know, however, that I am motivated, and ready to help you in any way that I can.

IRIS TILLMAN HILL Center for Documentary Studies, Duke: I found your interview with Stetson Kennedy fascinating, and it is good to know that you and John de Graaf are working on a film on his life and times. His commitment and courage in the cause of racial justice are very important, and your film will help people remember his contribution to recent southern history.

LOUISE BERNSTEIN, Reflex magazine, Paris: We have seen Southern Exposure magazine before, particularly the special issue on the Ku Klux Klan, which we found very interesting. We would be very happy for you to receive our magazine, and also our monthly newsletter No Pasaran! We have extensive archives on fascism around the world, and receiving Southern Exposure on an exchange basis would greatly benefit our work.

DR. GARY MORMINO, president, Florida Historical Society: Stetson Kennedy stands as one of Florida’s most esteemed writers, folklorists, and thinkers. His Palmetto Country represents a classic in Floridiana. Florida is richer for Stetson Kennedy’s work. {He} has meant much to the cultural awakening of Florida.

JONATHAN E. KAY, president, Florida Folklore Society: Kennedy’s literary work has touched many lives, and he continues to be a meaningful light to the arts and humanities in Florida. He came to the Florida Folk Festival this last May and made an address to over two thousand Floridians, who cheered, applauded and gave him a standing ovation. He is an amazing man whose writings should inspire and humble all of humanity.

DAVID FORSTER, president, Jacksonville Community Council: Stetson Kennedy is a living treasure He fully deserves recognition (for) the body of contributions he has made to the literary tradition of the nation. His interests have not been limited to the written word, as evidenced by his support of musical and other art forms. He has inspired other writers to research thoroughly and set forth their findings with clarity.

Dr. PATRICIA WICKMAN, Seminole Anthropology/ Geneology: I have followed Mr. Kennedy’s career during my thirty‐three years as a professional Florida and Southeastern Ethnohistorian. I have been but one of the many many legatees of his understanding, his literary grace, his lifelong commitment to human rights, and his profound courage. Few individuals in the literary and humanities fields are called upon to place their personal safety on the line in the pursuit of information. Yet Mr. Kennedy willingly has chosen to place public good above personal peril time and time again. He has now spent a long and productive life creating an enduring body of literature in support of two of humanity’s highest goals: the pursuit of social justice and the ongoing consideration of the human condition. These have been the twin directives of a life filled with passion and vigor, which has communicated itself to those whom he has directed in their writings, to those who have entered the world of his words, and to all whose lives have been enhanced by the power of his vision. Stetson Kennedy is a true Floridian, in the most valuable sense of the term, and it is only fitting that our state should recognize his work, his commitment, and his being.


Archived Guest Book Meassages


Susan D. Brandenburg

Fri, April 8, 2005 Hello Sean!
So good to finally meet you and your dad at your grandfather's induction into the Hall of Fame! When the young film crew, 9AM Productions, and I left to drive home to Jacksonville at 10 p.m., Stetson was dancing with Ana Maria Vasquez and having a grand time! I just spoke with him and he's home safe and sound and feeling great! Please log onto to and (plug Brandenburg) into the search engines, to access the articles I've written about Stetson during the past year. I just read Peter Guinta's article in the St. Augustine Record, and wanted to let you know that my photo of you, your grandfather and Governor Bush will be in the Riverbend (Mandarin)section of the TU on Saturday. Look forward to seeing you in the future.

Susan D. Brandenburg
PS: (also, if you can get a copy of the February Jacksonville Mag, I had the Real Jacksonvillian Page of your grandfather).

jeff douglas messer


Asheville, NC

Thu, March 31, 2005 19:54

I am a playwright who just heard an amazing feature on Stetson while listening to NPR. An amazing man indeed. As a writer (and a southern writer) I always look and listen for inspiration for what my next play might be about. I've covered everything from Medieval times to the wild West to World War Two contemporary life, and the story of Steston and his mission to infiltrate the KKK really struck a chord with me. I would love to find out whom I need to talk to about perhaps making Stetson's amazing time inside the KKK into a stage play. Please contact me if you know how or who I need to contact. This man should be immortalized in every possible way, including on stage in a live theatre. I also know the strong need and desire for good southern plays that are honest and accurate. I feel that Stetson's adventures could be a huge hit on stage.

Thanks for inspiring me.




Candace L. Hinson, Ph.D.


Tallahassee, Florida

Tue, March 29, 2005 16:01 Host:

Dear Stetson, I had the privilege of meeting you about 15 years ago down in Sopchoppy through a neighbor who taught at FAMU. I had just accepted a position at Tallahas see Community College teaching Sociology. I am a White woman who teaches classes in Race and Minority Group Relations. My Black students are always interested when I tell them about your infiltration of the Klan. They wonder why you would take such a risk. I tell them to read the book!

Your work and life have inspired me to keep fighting as hard as I can to end racism and to help to preserve the beautiful Florida we have known as we grew up. Thank you.


Susan Norton


Dunedin, FL Pinellas

Fri, March 25, 2005 11:20 Host:

Dear Mr. Kennedy:
I was so pleased to read the article this Sunday in the St Pete Times about your good work. I have lived in Florida less than one year and am becoming more fascinated every day by its unique history and people. My heart breaks at the shameless rape of the environment by money hungry short-sighted people. The fragile landscape is beautiful beyond words. The wildlife is magical! I have mailed a small donation to your foundation and will continue as I am able. If there is anything I can do to help you in your work, please let me know. I have some communication skills as well as some time and a lot of pa ssion for history and the environment.

David Connell


Washington, DC USA

"I ain't the world's best writer, nor the world's best speller, but when I believe in something I'm the loudest yeller. If we fix it so's you can't make money on war, we'll all forget what we're killing folks for... this makes Stetson Kennedy the man for me." - Woody Guthrie

Stetson, thanks for fighting the good fight.A new generation is learning about you from this Woody song now making the rounds courtesy of Billy Bragg and Wilco.

Kris Arendse


New South Wales Australia

Fri, March 25, 2005

I became aware of Stetson through my father, who gave me a copy of I Rode With The Ku Klux Klan, also known as The Klan Unmasked, about 10 years ago. Recently, I have been looking for other works in the University of Newcastle library and was amazed to find that it was not present in the catalog. I feel that it is an important work and should be compulsory reading for anyone who wishes to understand not only American and world history but also anyone who wants to understand the world in which they live. Thank you for putting your life on the line all those years ago so that we in other countries might gain an insight into the tensions and prejudices of the time, and which still permeate the world in which we live today.

Pam Kwazu


Nashville, TN


Hi Stet
Long time, no contact, but your feats have been shared by my children from here to Costa Rica. I am planning an October trip to St Augustine and would love to see you guys. Let me know.


Bruce Shapiro

Fri, March 25, 2005

It was a pleasure to discover your Stetson Kennedy website, and to learn that Mr. Kennedy is so vigorously engaged. As a journalist who writes about civil rights and civil liberties I've long admired his work and regard him as a role model; all the more because so few writers have so effectively combined muckraking with such deep understanding of culture.


Frank M. Tedesco, Ph.D.


Largo, Florida

Mr. Kennedy,

Congratulations on your induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame April 6th! It was a rare and inspiring occasion to meet you at Heritage Village in Pinellas county in January. I wonder if you would consider returning to the Tampa Bay area to speak at the Unitarian Universalists in Clearwater? Please contact me at your convenience.


Joyce Kennedy


Jacksonville, Fla

Tue, March 22, 2005 17:58 IP:

Your grandfather is incredible. He is 83 years old and replacing the deck of our house by himself. He is hammering as we speak. He had an excellent article on Woody Guthrie in the English magazine, Searchlight, this month. We appreciate all of your efforts on his behalf. We hope to see you soon.
Joyce Kennedy
Summer 2001