Upon receiving word of this morning’s passing of Stetson Kennedy, Jacksonville’s first black mayor, Alvin Brown, released a statement to Historic City News and the media regarding the highly acclaimed author and civil rights advocate.
“Stetson Kennedy was a man of the utmost integrity who led a storied life fighting for equality and justice. His difficult, dangerous work exposing violence and hatred helped to level the playing field for millions who otherwise may not have been able to compete academically, economically or politically,” Mayor Brown said. “I celebrate his accomplishments, mourn his passing and keep his family in my prayers.”
Kennedy, who entered the hospital earlier this week, was reported to have passed away at 9:25 a.m. this morning at Baptist Medical Center South. He would have turned 95 years-old on October 5th.
Kennedy was one of the pioneer folklore collectors during the first half of the twentieth century. As a teenager, he began collecting white and African American folklore material while he was collecting “a dollar down and dollar a week” accounts for his father, a furniture merchant.
He left the University of Florida, in 1937, to join the WPA Florida Writers’ Project, and was soon, at the age of 21, put in charge of folklore, oral history, and ethnic studies.
Kennedy worked undercover and as a journalist. He is best known for the book “The Klan Unmasked,” first published in the 1950’s. His writing helped expose the secrets of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, including the neo-Nazi hate group the “Columbians”, during the 1940’s and 1950’s. While he was living in Paris in the mid 1950′s, Jean Paul Sartre published, “The Jim Crow Guide”, after Kennedy could not find any interested American publishers.
A founding member and past president of the Florida Folklore Society, Kennedy is a recipient of the Florida Folk Heritage Award, the Florida Governor’s Heartland Award as well as an inductee of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.
In addition to his passion for folklore, Kennedy has become friends with many literary giants. Including: Erskine Caldwell, who became so interested in his work in an essay competition, that he went on to edit his novel on Floridian folklore, “Palmetto Country”. He was Zora Neale Hurston’s friend and boss in the Florida WPA.
Kennedy was married to Sandra Parks of St. Augustine on November 24, 2006. This was his sixth (possibly seventh?) walk down the aisle. “I’ll leave it to the historians to decide how many times I’ve been married,” said Kennedy.
“It’s been a long time since I applied for a wedding license,” Kennedy told the small gathering almost five years ago in the upstairs banquet room of the Reef Restaurant north of Vilano Beach. According to news reports, the couple was married in a quasi-Quaker style wedding ceremony, with prayers led by Rev. Jewell Kutzer of St. Augustine.
Kennedy and Parks got to know each other when she came to his legendary Fruit Cove home; Beluthahatchee. Parks was there to recruit him for the 40th anniversary observance of the St. Augustine civil rights marches which he participated in with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News archive photograph