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AFS Review: In Memoriam

Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011)

Saturday, August 27, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jesse A. Fivecoate

By Peggy Bulger (independent) — 

Stetson Kennedy was a folklorist, oral historian, writer, anti-poverty government employee, and a lifelong Floridian. Most of all, he was a tireless activist for liberal causes throughout the 20th century -- battling against racism and poverty while advocating for labor unions, immigration reform and environmental causes. He died on August 27, 2011 at the age of 94, but his legacy lives on in the Stetson Kennedy Foundation, with a mission to "carry forward mankind's unending struggle for human rights in a free, peaceful, harmonious, democratic, just, humane, bounteous and joyful world, to nurture our cultural heritages, and to faithfully discharge our commitment of stewardship over Mother Earth and all her progeny.” Kennedy began his folklore career as the head of the Folklore Unit of Florida’s Federal Writers Project in the 1930s, where he worked with Ben Botkin, Zora Neale Hurston, Alan Lomax and Herbert Halpert. He was a senior editor for the Florida State Guide Book of that project and then wrote a cultural study of Florida, Palmetto Country.He is best known for infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in Stone Mountain, GA, in the early 1940s and his work to combat segregation and racism in the South resulted in two books: I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan and the satirical Jim Crow Guide to the USA. Kennedy continued to be an activist, folklorist and writer for his entire life. In addition to his earlier books, he is the author of South Florida Folklife (with Tina Bucuvalas and Peggy A. Bulger), After Appomattox: How the South Won the War, and Grits & Grunts: Folkloric Key West (written in 2008 when Stetson was 91). He is the recipient of many awards, including the Florida Folk Heritage Award, induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Historical Society, the NAACP Freedom Award, and the Cavello Prize for Civic Courage. Stetson was a friend and mentor to many and he demonstrated the potential that we, as practicing folklorists, have to use our folklore training to change people’s lives. He will be missed.

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