Stetson Kennedy, noted Civil Rights activist perhaps best known for infiltrating and exposing the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia in the 1940s, passed away Saturday, August 27, at the age of 94. Kennedy was a donor to Georgia State University Library’s Southern Labor Archives.
Kennedy’s career as an author began in the 1930s when he worked as both a writer and an editor on the Federal Writers Project guide to Florida. The affiliation made there led to an invitation to write the Florida volume in the American Folkways series, edited by Erskine Caldwell. This volume, Palmetto Country (1942), established Kennedy’s reputation as an authority on the traditions and culture of his home state.
His next book, Southern Exposure (1946), was an expose of the social and political inequities of the South in the mid-20th century. Later, he continued his crusade with I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan (1954) and Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A. (1959).
As an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate from Florida in 1950, Kennedy ran on a “Total Equality” ticket, and finished last. From 1952 through 1960, Kennedy lived and traveled in Europe, Asia, and Africa. His interest in communism led him behind the Iron Curtain, where he lived and worked for three years, primarily in Hungary. He emerged, disenchanted, as a refugee in 1956.
Upon his return to the United States, Kennedy remained active in the civil rights and peace movements as a writer and lecturer. At various times he has contributed articles to the New York Times, the New York Post, Saturday Review, Nation, New Republic, and other periodicals in the U.S. and abroad. The author of the column “Inside Out” syndicated by the Federated Press from 1937 to 1950, Kennedy also wrote a column “Up Front Down South,” for the Pittsburgh Courier in the 1960s.
More information about Kennedy’s life and work can be found on the Stetson Kennedy Foundation website.
Stetson Kennedy donated papers to several repositories, including:
- Stetson Kennedy papers, Southern Labor Archives, Georgia State University Library
- Stetson Kennedy collection, Special & Digital Collections, University of South Florida Tampa Library
- Stetson Kennedy Collection of Progressive Party materials, Special Collections Department, University of Iowa Libraries
- Stetson Kennedy papers, The Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Stetson Kennedy collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library
Stetson Kennedy’s publications (linked titles are owned by Georgia State University Library):
- Mister Homer, 1939
- Southern Exposure, 1946 (2011 reprint)
- The Klan Unmasked, 1954 (2011 reprint)
- Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A., 1959 (2011 reprint)
- Palmetto Country, 1942 (1989 reprint; Florida Historical Society Press 2009 reprint)
- The Jim Crow Guide: The Way It Was Before the Overcoming, 1956 (at Paris; 1959; reprint 1990)
- South Florida Folklife, 1994 (coauthors Peggy A. Bulger and Tina Bucuvalas)
- After Appomattox: How the South Won the War, 1995
- Grits and Grunts: Folkloric Key West, 2008
Check out this previous blog post for information about Stetson Kennedy’s last visit to the Georgia State University Library and early filming stages of a documentary about his life and work.