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Stetson Kennedy
August 28, 2011 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Stetson Kennedy died yesterday at 94. The folklorist and writer was best known for infiltrating and exposing the secrets of the Ku Klux Klan, increasing public resistance to the organization and helping lead to the revocation of their national charter. Kennedy revealed details of the KKK to writers of the popular radio show "Superman," giving the Man of Steel a new postwar enemy through 16 episodes of the series "Superman vs. the Klan".

Kennedy became friends with Woody Guthrie. In 1952, Kennedy ran for Florida Governor, and Guthrie wrote a campaign song for him. Here's the Billy Bragg and Wilco version of the song.

Kennedy was classed 4F during WWII and was unable to enlist. Of his motivation, he said "All my friends were in service and they were being shot at in a big way. They were fighting racism whether they knew it or not. At least I could see if I could do something about the racist terrorists in our backyard."

Photo gallery.

Kennedy coined the term Frown Power.

His papers are archived at Georgia State University Library..
posted by Miko (30 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. A real hero and I'd not heard of him before. His actions had and continue to have strong ripples in the world.

Thank you, Stetson Kennedy.

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posted by hippybear at 10:24 AM on August 28, 2011


Awesome, awesome guy. RIP.
posted by crabintheocean at 10:27 AM on August 28, 2011


Speaking as a Canadian, it's people like Stetson Kennedy and Woody Guthrie that represent all that is good about the United States. It's a shame that we don't hear more about these people, rather than the typical mouthpieces like Palin, Beck and Bachmann.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:37 AM on August 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


"For a time in the 1940s, Washington news commentator Drew Pearson was reading Klan meeting minutes on national radio. In fact the popular national radio broadcast, Superman had America’s kids sharing the most current secretive Ku Klux Klan passwords as fast as the KKK Grand Dragon could create them."

Holy shit. That's awesome.
posted by ardgedee at 10:42 AM on August 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


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We lost the kind of freedom fighter we need more of.
posted by smirkette at 10:44 AM on August 28, 2011


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posted by Jon_Evil at 10:58 AM on August 28, 2011


A hero. RIP.
posted by penduluum at 11:05 AM on August 28, 2011


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posted by theartandsound at 11:11 AM on August 28, 2011


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Too bad all I knew about him was the song.
posted by mike3k at 11:13 AM on August 28, 2011


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posted by Blue Jello Elf at 11:24 AM on August 28, 2011


Going off to listen to that song about him on Mermaid Avenue.

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posted by quadog at 11:43 AM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had heard of his work before, but hadn't heard the actual Superman episodes. Wonderful stuff... "Don't you worry... some 'Real Americans' are going to take care of this Jimmy Olsen character".

We could use about 50 Stetson Kennedys right now.

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posted by benzenedream at 11:50 AM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, I had no idea he was* still alive. I thought he'd died in the 70s.

*you know what I mean.
posted by COBRA! at 12:03 PM on August 28, 2011


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posted by Renoroc at 12:25 PM on August 28, 2011


Writin' his name in.
posted by klangklangston at 1:27 PM on August 28, 2011


OMG, old time radio! Awesome! I'd read about this, but I'd never heard any of them.

Great post.
posted by Decimask at 1:30 PM on August 28, 2011


Wow, what an incredible person.

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posted by schyler523 at 2:27 PM on August 28, 2011


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posted by joedan at 2:38 PM on August 28, 2011



posted by Smart Dalek at 2:40 PM on August 28, 2011


I was preparing a much inferior version of this post. Kennedy was the kind of guy that we so desperately need today.

RIP, good American.
posted by item at 3:01 PM on August 28, 2011


A true, true hero. Thanks for posting this, Miko.
posted by scody at 4:56 PM on August 28, 2011


Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt covered Stetson Kennedy's story in "Freakonomics". After publication, they discovered that parts of his story had been fabricated or fictionalized to better fit his narrative. They covered this in their New York Times blog:

Hoodwinked? at the Freakonomics blog

The supporting documentation
posted by themanwho at 8:13 PM on August 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


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smirkette is right, we need more people like him.
posted by arcticseal at 8:35 PM on August 28, 2011


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posted by brundlefly at 10:13 PM on August 28, 2011


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posted by spinifex23 at 11:15 PM on August 28, 2011


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posted by SageLeVoid at 3:09 AM on August 29, 2011


I was aware of that controversy but chose not to include a specific link as it was briefly mentioned in most of the obituaries. In my opinion, that's all it deserves.

The Freakonomics authors didn't actually break that story - it was brought to their attention after the first edition came out, and they were contacted by another author formerly connected with Kennedy who had a falling out with him over the representation of the FBI in a book on which they were collaborating. Also, there's no evidence of "fabrication," just conflation of accounts from more than one individual into a single narrative. The Wikipedia entry on Kennedy gives what appears to be a fair summary.

By today's standards, conflation is not a widely endorsed journalistic technique, but I'm willing to cut him some slack in light of his times and of other perspectives, like
"In a letter to Kennedy dated July 27, 1946, Georgia Gov. Ellis Arnall wrote: 'You have my permission to quote me as making the following observation: Documentary evidence uncovered by Stetson Kennedy has facilitated Georgia's prosecution of the Ku Klux Klan.'"[20]"


and
Peggy Bulger, the head of the American Folklife Division of the Library of Congress, who wrote her Ph. D. dissertation on Kennedy and interviewed him extensively, maintains that Kennedy was always candid with her and others about his combination of two narratives into one in I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan: "His purpose was to expose the Klan to a broad reading audience and use their folklore against them, which he did." In a letter to the editor of New York Times Magazine (published on January 22, 2006) Bulger accused Dubner and Levitt of "holding Stetson Kennedy responsible for the inadequacies of their own research":

"It's preposterous. I have worked with Stetson Kennedy for more than 30 years, conducting almost 100 in-depth interviews with both Kennedy and his contemporaries. Your writers use one footnote from my dissertation as "evidence," yet Dubner admitted to me that they never read the whole thing. This is "data"? What is the smoking gun here?"

In the same issue of the magazine a letter of protest from famed oral historian Studs Terkel affirms that "With half a dozen Stetson Kennedys, we can transform our society into one of truth, grace and beauty.... The thing is, Stetson did what he set out to do .... He did get help. He should have been much more up-front. But he certainly doesn't deserve this treatment".

and
In 2006, The Florida Times-Union, after extensive research, published an article "KKK Book Stands Up to Claim of Falsehood" (January 29, 2006) substantiating the general accuracy of Kennedy's account of infiltrating the Klan, while acknowledging that (as he himself never denied) he had made use of dramatic effects and multiple narratives in the book I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan.
posted by Miko at 5:00 AM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Are you saying Superman never fought the Klan?
posted by benzenedream at 11:45 AM on August 29, 2011


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posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:10 AM on August 31, 2011


Great post, Miko.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:11 AM on August 31, 2011


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