TITLE: A Conversation with Stetson Kennedy
SPEAKER: Stetson Kennedy
EVENT DATE: 2005/05/24
FORMAT: Video + Captions
RUNNING TIME: 57 minutes
TRANSCRIPT: View Transcript (link will open in a new window)
Pioneering folklorist, social activist and writer Stetson Kennedy, of Jacksonville, Fla., discussed his long and wide-ranging career and explored the theme of "Building Democracy in America" in a lecture presented by the American Folklife Center as part of its Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series. The event was co-sponsored by Holland & Knight LLP.
The program was introduced by Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Stetson Kennedy, and facilitated by John Y. Cole, an expert on the Federal Writers' Project and the director of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.
Speaker Biography: Stetson Kennedy is a native Floridian who directed the state's Folklore Unit of the Federal Writers' Project for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s. His group conducted unprecedented field research throughout the state that documented hundreds of traditional stories and songs, occupational cultures and many other aspects of Florida's diverse cultural heritage. The most famous of the folklorists who worked under Kennedy's direction was the celebrated African-American novelist and playwright, Zora Neale Hurston. The research done by Kennedy, Hurston and others was carried out from 1937 to 1942, producing one-of-a-kind sound recordings of ordinary men and women, photographs, researchers' notes and reports, and other documentary materials, which are now preserved at the Library of Congress. Kennedy's 1942 book, "Palmetto Country," is a detailed survey of Florida folklife derived from the data he and his Federal Writers' Project colleagues compiled. Kennedy is also known for risking his life to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan during the 1950s as an undercover agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, learning the secret organization's beliefs and codes and then leaking the information to columnist-broadcaster Drew Pearson who, in turn, exposed the Klan's activities to the American public. Kennedy told this story in his book "The Klan Unmasked" (1955). Other books by Kennedy include "Southern Exposure" (1946), "The Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A.: The Laws, Customs and Etiquette Governing the Conduct of Nonwhites and Other Minorities as Second-Class Citizens" (1973), "After Appomattox: How the South Won the War" (1995) and "South Florida Folklife" (1994). An important facet of Kennedy's long life is the friendships he forged with prominent writers, philosophers and folklorists, including Richard Wright, Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Studs Turkel, Alan Lomax, Langston Hughes, Howard Fast and Alice Walker. Beginning in the 1950s, Kennedy shared a deep friendship with Woody Guthrie, the legendary singer, songwriter and social activist. Guthrie was a frequent visitor to Kennedy's home, Lake Beluthahatchee, south of Jacksonville, where he wrote the final draft of his autobiography and dozens of his songs.
SERIES: Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series