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Obit: Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011)

Paul G. 27 Aug 11 - 12:11 PM
alanabit 27 Aug 11 - 12:20 PM
Joe Offer 27 Aug 11 - 01:28 PM
Joe Offer 27 Aug 11 - 01:32 PM
fat B****rd 27 Aug 11 - 03:57 PM
Paul G. 27 Aug 11 - 07:24 PM
ChanteyLass 28 Aug 11 - 01:05 AM
Jim Carroll 28 Aug 11 - 05:03 AM
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Subject: Obit: Stetson Kennedy
From: Paul G.
Date: 27 Aug 11 - 12:11 PM

Great American activist, folklorist, humanitarian, and for the last 10 years my great friend. This morning at 9:25. Please Read

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Subject: RE: Obit: Stetson Kennedy
From: alanabit
Date: 27 Aug 11 - 12:20 PM

That was quite a life!

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Subject: RE: Obit: Stetson Kennedy
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Aug 11 - 01:28 PM

I think it's worth posting that text:
from (The Florida Press-Union), 25 August 2011

Jacksonville author, civil rights activist Stetson Kennedy dead at 95

Author and civil rights activist wrote "The Klan Unmasked."
Posted: August 25, 2011 - 11:46am | Updated: August 27, 2011 - 12:36pm
By Charlie Patton

William Stetson Kennedy, whose radical opposition to Jim Crow racial segregation made him a pariah in his hometown early in life and an honored elder statesman late in life, died at 9:25 a.m. Saturday at Baptist Medical Center South. He was 94.
"Stetson Kennedy was a walking around reminder of the principle ... that people's basic decency outweighed the customs, laws, misconceptions and violence of racism," Mr. Kennedy's wife, Sandra Parks, wrote in a statement. "Although millions of white Southeners were uneasy about segregation, Stetson was among the few who took the risks of direct action against it."
Turned down for military service in World War II because of a back injury, Mr. Kennedy, who grew up in Jacksonville, decided in the early 1940s to become an investigative journalist targeting groups like the Ku Klux Klan. Having already published "Palmetto Country," an acclaimed book on Florida folklore, in 1942, Mr. Kennedy followed that with "Southern Exposure" in 1946, a book about Southern hate groups.
He then worked on a book that would eventually be published as "The Klan Unmasked," filled with incidents uncovered when he and another man began infiltrating meetings of the Klan and another Georgia hate group, the Columbians. He thought that book would be published in 1948.
But as the fear of Communism swept America, anti-fascists like Mr. Kennedy were viewed with suspicion. He spent six years searching for a publisher and rewriting the book to make it more appealing to a general audience. "The Klan Unmasked" was finally published in France in 1954. The only American publication was a heavily edited, lurid paperback titled "I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan." His next book, "The Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A," his last book for four decades, was also published in France, by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
The republication of "Palmetto Country" in 1988 by Florida A&M Press, and his other books in 1990 by the Florida Atlantic University Press helped turn Mr. Kennedy, by then in his 70s, into a widely admired figure. Once "the most hated man in North Florida," to quote what a Florida professor once told the St. Petersburg Times, he became one of the most honored.
His late fame was not without controversy. In January, 2006, journalist Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt, authors of the best-selling book "Freakonomics," wrote a column about Mr. Kennedy in The New York Times Magazine. The authors, who lionized Mr. Kennedy in their book, questioned in a column headlined "Hoodwinked" whether Mr. Kennedy had ever personally infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.
The Times-Union, after reviewing the microfilmed Stetson Kennedy Collection at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, a branch of New York City's public library, concluded that "The Klan Unmasked" was not a straightforward work of non-fiction but rather a fact-based novel that had a lead character, Stetson Kennedy, doing and seeing things that in some cases had actually been done and seen by other people.
But the Times-Union also concluded that Mr. Kennedy had risked his life by going undercover to meetings, writing stories about the their activities and providing information to those investigating the groups for criminal activity.
In a subsequent interview, Mr. Kennedy admitted that he intermingled events witnessed by several people into a single narrative to make his story more compelling. He also said he had always been open about this fact - stories and reviews written in 1990 don't support that claim - but that he regretted he didn't write an introduction for the 1990 edition that would have made his method clearer.
In any case, the controversy soon passed. During a 2008 visit to Jacksonville, Levitt said that while some of what Mr. Kennedy wrote "was fictionalized ... I still think he's an American hero."
Raised in Jacksonville, Mr. Kennedy graduated from from Lee High School. He enrolled at the University of Florida, where he took a journalism class taught by novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. But he didn't stay in school long.
In 1935, at the age of 18, he moved to Key West looking for work. He became head of the Florida Folklore Project, part of the federal Work Progress Administration's Writers Project. Working with the now-famous ethno-musicologist Alan Lomax and with Zora Neale Hurston, who was early in her career as a celebrated novelist, his job was to compile folklore for a WPA guide to Florida.
In a 1988 interview, he recalled carrying a sound recorder the size of a large coffee table, "capturing the songs of pogey fishermen at Mayport, railroad gandydancers, Latin cigarmakers, Greek spongers and turpentiners." In "Grits and Grunts: Folkloric Key West," which was published in 2008, Mr. Kennedy quotes Hurston: "Folklore is the boiled-down juice, or pot-likker, of human living."
A good deal of the material he gathered ended up in "Palmetto Country," which was part of the American Folkways Series edited by Erskine Caldwell. Many people consider it Mr. Kennedy's finest book.
"I think it set the stage for a lot of other folklore books for the general public," said Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Mr. Kennedy.
One of the book's fans was the folksinger Woody Guthrie, who became pals with Mr. Kennedy. In 1950, when Mr. Kennedy was living on family land south of Jacksonville in an area then called Switzerland (now officially known as St. Johns), Guthrie came and stayed with him. Mr. Kennedy had launched a quixotic campaign as a write-in candidate for U.S. Senate and Guthrie wrote two campaign songs, "Kennedy, He's That Man" and "Talking Stetson Kennedy."
Mr. Kennedy spent part of the 1950s in Europe, going there in 1952 and, depending on which account you read, returning in either 1956 or 1960. Mr. Kennedy could be vague about biographical details.
Widowed in 2002 when his wife of 33 years, teacher Joyce Ann Kennedy, passed away, Mr. Kennedy married Parks, a St. Augustine historian, in 2006. At the time he told a reporter: "I'll leave it up to the historians to figure out how many times I've been married. In the past when people asked me that question, my response has always been 'not nearly often enough.'"
For the record, most accounts indicate that was his sixth marriage.
After his return to the United States, Mr. Kennedy settled on the family land in northern St. Johns County, having bought out his siblings. His home overlooked Lake Beluthahatchee, which he created by damming a creek. He would spend the next five decades trying to preserve his piece of old Florida against the encroachments of civilization. In 2003, the Friends of Libraries USA designated Beluthahatchee the nation's 63rd Literary Landmark. Two years
later, the Florida Communities Trust approved the creation of Beluthahatchee Park, which encompasses about 5 acres.
After his return to Jacksonville, Mr. Kennedy got involved in the local civil rights movement. In 1960 he would often join demonstrators who were attempting to desegregate downtown lunch counters.
Alton Yates, who was a leader of the NAACP Youth Council, which organized the sit-ins, said Kennedy actually warned police that members of the Klan were planning to attack the demonstrators.
But the police ignored Mr. Kennedy and on August 27 a mob of white men wielding ax handles went after members of the group, who were demonstrating at W.T. Grant, an event now known as Ax Handle Saturday. Mr. Kennedy later said he tried to run from the mob, then changed tactics and merged with it to escape the violence.
At the time Mr. Kennedy was also writing dispatches about the civil rights movement for the Pittsburgh Courier, then the most widely read black newspaper in the country. His journalism earned him a letter of appreciation from Martin Luther King.
In 1964, Mr. Kennedy went to work for the federal anti-poverty agency in Jacksonville. Yates, who headed the agency from 1968-1972, said Mr. Kennedy played a key role in getting the agency funded initially and then wrote many of the grant applications that kept it going. He remained with the agency until 1979, when, after feuding with his boss, he was fired.
While at the agency, Mr. Kennedy would send "qualified young black people" to work at City Hall, his wife wrote. "When city officials saw that their 'free clerical workers' were black, the applicants returned to Stetson's office rejected and angry. He insisted they keep going back until waves of persistent young people broke through local government's hiring barriers."
"Stetson's contributions were just so vast," Yates said. "He was one of the greatest contributors to the anti-poverty and civil rights movements in the country. He was just a unique individual."
When his job at the anti-poverty agency ended, Mr. Kennedy settled into life at Beluthahatchee, a largely forgotten "dissident at large," which was the title of an autobiography he planned but never completed. But a decade later, he was rediscovered and honors began to pour in, beginning with Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1988 and continuing through the Dorothy Dodd Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Historical Society last year. His website,, lists 35 other awards in those years, including the state's highest award, the Heartland Award for lifetime service to his community in 1998, and his induction into the state's Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2005.
But the event that Mr. Kennedy called "the highlight of his career" was the election of an African-American, Alvin Brown, as Jacksonville mayor, historian Wayne Wood said.
"He's been campaigning for Alvin Brown since the 1930s, before Alvin Brown was born," Wood said. Brown released a statement that said: "Stetson Kennedy was a man of the utmost integrity who led a storied life fighting for equality and justice. His difficult, dangerous work exposing violence and hatred helped to level the playing field for millions who otherwise may not have been able to compete academically,
economically or politically."
"Stetson spent his life trying to make North Florida be a better place," Bulger said. "He's never stopped having an opinion and sharing that opinion and just being courageous."
On the day he checked into the Baptist South emergency room, Mr. Kennedy told the physician, "that every person has a cause and his was finished," Mr. Kennedy's wife wrote. "Few people see their life's purpose so dramatically fulfilled. Stetson Kennedy passed away realizing that satisfaction."
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Loren Kennedy, of Raleigh, N.C., four stepdaughters, Leslie Reda, of Ft. Lauderdale, Karen Roumillat, of St. Johns, Katherine Jones, of Newton, Mass., and Becky Gay, of Jacksonville, a sister, Jean Curran, of Jacksonville, and a grandchild. There will be a celebration of his life at 2 p.m. Oct 1 at Beluthahatchee. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Stetson Kennedy Foundation, 1523 S.R. 13, St. Johns, Florida 32257., (904) 359-4414

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Subject: RE: Obit: Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Aug 11 - 01:32 PM

Here's the obituary from

    Stetson Kennedy October 5th 1916 - August 27th 2011

    Died today at 9:36 AM EDT. He was with his wife and stepdaughter, He was in no pain. And as recently as 4 days ago he was lucid and talking. The doctor, checking his mental faculties asked him questions "where are you from", Kennedy replied, "The planet Earth"

    Stetson's wishes were for a party and not a funeral. A luncheon at Beluthahatchee will be held October 1st.


    Stetson Kennedy is an author, folklorist and human rights activist. He is known as a pioneering folklorist, a labor activist, and environmentalist. Kennedy is the author of eight books and the co-author of a ninth.

    Kennedy was one of the pioneer folklore collectors during the first half of the twentieth century. As a teenager, he began collecting 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 was soon, at the age of 21, put in charge of folklore, oral history, and ethnic studies.

    After World War II Kennedy infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. While undercover in the Klan, he provided information - including secret code words and details of Klan rituals - to the writers of the Superman radio program. Resulting in a series of four episodes in which Superman battled the KKK.

    A founding member and past president of the Florida Folklore Society, Kennedy is a recipient of the Florida Folk Heritage Award, the Florida Governor's Heartland Award as well as an inductee of 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 in an essay competition, that he went on to edit his novel on Floridian folklore, "Palmetto Country". He was Zora Neale Hurston's friend and boss in the Florida WPA. While he was living in Paris in the mid 1950's, Jean Paul Sartre published, "The Jim Crow Guide", after Kennedy could not find any interested American publishers.

    Stetson Kennedy has widely written and been written on; he has been discovered and re-discovered by authors, young scholars, academics, film makers, and journalists alike.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011)
From: fat B****rd
Date: 27 Aug 11 - 03:57 PM

Makes me feel a little humble. RIP Mr. Kennedy.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011)
From: Paul G.
Date: 27 Aug 11 - 07:24 PM

FB -- Stet was always the humble one... had time and a kind word for everybody he encountered. Huge heart, huge courage, huge depth, little ego.

Thanks, Joe, for for posting the full article and the obit from his website...

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Subject: RE: Obit: Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011)
From: ChanteyLass
Date: 28 Aug 11 - 01:05 AM

Another good one lost to this country. It sounds like he lived a life truly worth celebrating.

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Subject: RE: Obit: Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011)
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 28 Aug 11 - 05:03 AM

As a Brit my first introduction to American politics as a teenager was Kennedy's 'I Rode with The Ku Klux Clan' - I no longer have the book but its message has stayed with me all my life.
Jim Carroll

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