The Stetson Kennedy Papers

The Papers of Stetson Kennedy, firebrand activist, writer and folklorist of the American South, were officially dedicated at the University of Florida (UF) on October 22, 2013. Kennedy, best known for exposés on the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s, attended the University of Florida in 1935 but chaffed at the demands of college classes. Instead, he joined the ranks of the New Deal-era Federal Writers Project, then preparing the American Guide Series on Florida, where he worked with Zora Neale Hurston and Alan Lomax, learned the art of oral history, and began to speak out against the Jim Crow laws of racial discrimination.

In a life that spanned almost a century, and a writing career of some 80 years, Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011) epitomized the energy and drive of American social activism. Now his thoughts and works are preserved at UF, the school he always regarded as his alma mater, joining those of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston as part of the literary manuscripts of Special Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries.

Besides his association with Hurston and Rawlings, Kennedy’s writings and advocacy for social justice brought him into contact with Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Richard Wright, Woody and Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Studs Terkel, Erskine Caldwell and Florida freedom fighters Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore. Many of his books have become classics, including Palmetto Country (1942), Southern Exposure (1946) and The Klan Unmasked (1954). But it was only in the 1990s, when he was in his seventies, that accolades started to roll in, with more than 35 honors. He was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2005.

Text on this page from Jim Cusick's article in Chapter One, Fall 2013.