Folklorist and author Stetson Kennedy died on August 27 at the age of 94, in Jacksonville, Florida. Born in Jacksonville in 1916, he developed an early interest in the traditions of his native state. When only 21 he became the director of the WPA Florida Writers Project, and worked with Zora Neale Hurston and other colleagues to document the folklife of Florida. Many years later he wrote of those years,
In the 1930s, we traveled backroads the length and breadth of the Florida peninsula, toting a coffee-table-sized recording machine into turpentine camps, sawmills, citrus groves, the Everglades, out onto railroad tracks, and aboard shrimp trawlers — wherever Florida folks were working, living, and singing.
They would make hundreds of recordings of Floridians, which are now archived at the Library of Congress and can be browsed on the Library’s American Memory Project at memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/florida.
Kennedy was renowned not only for his work collecting Florida folklife, but also for infiltrating and exposing the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups, bringing public attention to their activities. He authored books on human rights and other topics, and when he ran for governor of Florida in 1952, his friend Woody Guthrie wrote lyrics for his campaign song.
Kennedy spent much of the last sixty years working for community organizations in Florida. He received the Florida Folk Heritage Award and the Florida Governor’s Heartland Award.