by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
The papers and writings of Stetson Kennedy, firebrand activist, writer, and folklorist of the American South, have been donated to the University of Florida by the Stetson Kennedy Trust. In this major acquisition, Kennedy’s papers will join those of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston as part of the literary manuscripts of Special Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries.
The University of Florida will commemorate the opening of the Stetson Kennedy Papers on Oct. 22 with a celebratory symposium, “Stetson Kennedy: Re-Imagining Justice in the 21st Century.” Featured speakers include acclaimed author and FIU professor Marvin Dunn, former director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress Peggy Bulger, and Lucy Anne Hurston, author and niece of literary luminary Zora Neale Hurston.
A full day of special events has been planned for October 22. In the morning, beginning at 10a.m., there will be an open house in Room 1A, George A. Smathers Library, with an exhibit of materials from the Stetson Kennedy Papers. This will be followed at noon with a reception and commentary on the writing careers of Stetson Kennedy and Zora Neale Hurston by Sandra Parks and Lucy Anne Hurston. At 2p.m. also in Room 1A there will be a showing of the film “Soul Of A People—Writing America’s Story” about the 1930s Federal Writers Project.
The day’s main event will be the panel presentation “Stetson Kennedy: Re- Imagining Justice in the 21st Century,” at 6 p.m. in Pugh Hall with opening com- ments from UF First Lady Chris Machen. The panel, which will also be live broad- cast over the internet, will be moderated by Ben Brotemarkle, executive director of the Florida Historical Society.
Stetson Kennedy (1916–2011) epitomized the energy and drive of American social activism. As Dr. Paul Ortíz, director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, has noted, “Kennedy spent the better part of the 20th century doing battle with racism, class oppression, corporate domination, and environmental degradation in the American South.” He pitted himself against the Ku Klux Klan, going undercover in order to investigate their activities, then broadcasting some of his findings through 1947 episodes of the radio series Adventures of Superman (“Clan of the Fiery Cross”) in which the iconic American superhero battles the KKK. Kennedy had to flee the country to escape retribution, living for a year in Paris.
His writings and constant advocacy for social justice brought him into contact with Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Richard Wright, Lillian Smith, Woody and Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Studs Terkel, Zora Neale Hurston, Myles Horton, Virginia Durr, Alan Lomax, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Erskine Caldwell (who edited his first book) and Florida freedom fighters and martyrs Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore. Many of his books have become classics, includ- ing Palmetto Country (1942), Southern Exposure (1946), The Klan Unmasked (1954), and the Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A. (1959).
The Stetson Kennedy Papers at the University of Florida encompass core areas of his career, spanning his high school writings to his most recent and unpublished work, and include correspondence, a mass of published articles, photographs, research files, and several hundred audio and audio-video files of interviews with him, interviews by him, and recordings of his public talks.
Other institutions in the United States with collections of Kennedy’s work include the Department of Special Collections at the University of South Florida, Georgia State University, the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the University of North Carolina. His personal library was donated to the Civic Media Center in Gainesville, Florida.