May 6, 2005 Florida Folklorist, Social Activist and Writer Stetson Kennedy To Speak on May 24

Program Rescheduled from March 25

Press Contact: Helen Dalrymple (202) 707-1940
Public Contact: American Folklife Center (202) 707-5510,

Pioneering folklorist, social activist and writer Stetson Kennedy, of Jacksonville, Fla., will discuss his long and wide-ranging career and explore the theme of “Building Democracy in America” in a talk at the Library of Congress at noon on May 24.

This lecture is presented by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, part of its Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series, and cosponsored by Holland & Knight LLP. It will be held in Room 119 of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.. It is free and open to the public and no tickets are required.

Kennedy, 88, 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.

The program will be conducted by Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Stetson Kennedy.

The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to “preserve and present American folklife” through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs and training. The center includes the Archive of Folk Culture, which was established in the Library in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. For more information, visit the center’s Web site at

More information about Stetson Kennedy can be found at


PR 05-115
ISSN 0731-3527