Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Letter to the Editor to the Osteen Publishing Family of South Carolina Regardng Their Purchase and Closing of the St. Augustine Undergound
In my opinion, it is a big mistake for Osteen Publishing to buy and to shut down the St. Augustine Underground, a monthly newspaper.
Will you please explain your decision? Will you please talk to local residents who are devoted readers of the Underground? Then, will you please reconsider?
Newspaper readers in St. Augustine and St. Johns County, Florida deserve thorough news coverage, which is what we are simply not getting from the existing daily newspapers – the St. Augustine Record and the Florida Times-Union, both owned by Morris Publishing.
Operating for less than a year under ownership of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel newspapers, the St. Augustine Underground was a vibrant, viable, exciting newspaper that people looked forward to reading.
Newspaper readers deserve a choice, not an echo chamber for the influential to spew their propaganda and ignore the real news.
The St. Augustine Underground provided such a choice, illuminating long-unexamined issues that readers deserve to know, including government and business abuses of power.
I confess: I was proud that the St. Augustine Underground printed my 1200 word column on the proposed St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore in its January 2011 issue. No other local newspaper has given this much attention to the park proposal (first proposed in 1939 by Florida’s U.S. Senators). The Park and Seashore would create good jobs while preserving our history, culture, nature and way of life here in Northeast Florida. www.staugustgreen.com
To the Osteen family: Will you please reconsider your decision to close the St. Augustine Underground?
Otherwise, will you please sell the Underground? Please sell it to news people who will run it in the spirit in which it has been run – working to fulfill the Founding Father’s vision of newspapers as watchdogs, working tirelessly and indefatigably to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”
Our Nation’s Oldest European-founded City needs the St. Augustine Underground. We’re about to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Spanish Florida (2013), 450th anniversary of St. Augustine (2015) and 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (made possible by courageous people here in St. Augustine, which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once called “the most lawless” city in America).
St. Augustine, Florida 32085-3084
St. Augustine Record: South Carolina Company Buys Ponte Vedra Record, Will Close the St. Augustine Underground "Immediately"""
Owners to close St. Augustine Underground
Posted: August 31, 2011 - 12:01am
By JENNIFER EDWARDS
The Ponte Vedra Recorder has been sold to a South Carolina company, Recorder editor Mark Pettus said Tuesday, his last day on the job.
The move means that the St. Augustine Underground, a monthly newspaper, will stop publication immediately, Pettus said.
Pettus said Osteen Publishing, based in Sumter, completed this week the purchase of the paper and its other publications, including Clay Today and St. Augustine Underground.
"They're a newspaper family," he said. "They've been in the newspaper business since 1861."
Pettus said Publisher Vinnie Grassia was already let go, so he had expected to follow.
A message left for Grassia at the Recorder was not returned Tuesday afternoon.
Pettus, sounding resigned but optimistic, said he had expected the dismissal and was looking forward to finding another position -- though probably not another editorship.
"I would rather have been a reporter," he said. "I had a great boss ... but I'm a writer at heart."
Osteen Publishing owns the Sumter newspaper, The Item, a 17,000-circulation daily.
"Members of the Osteen family have been involved in newspapering in Sumter for over 150 years, which is believed to be the longest continuous family involvement in a newspaper in South Carolina," the Item website states. "It is also the oldest family-owned business in Sumter."
Pettus said the family likely had chosen to discontinue St. Augustine Underground because it wasn't as financially successful as expected, though he felt it contained some great work.
A representative of the Osteen family could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
IN HAEC VERBA: History of the OSTEENS, the South Carolina Newspaper ublishing Family That Bought and Closed the St. Augustine Underground
A history of The Item, South Carolina’s first small town daily newspaper, is not complete without mention of The Watchman and Southron, its antecedent, which was the creation of N.G. Osteen, the patriarch of the family that owns and operates the newspaper today.
Noah Graham Osteen began his career in the newspaper business at the age of 12, when he joined The Sumter Watchman in 1855 as an apprentice. After completing his apprenticeship in 1861, he moved to Conway, to run a newspaper started by the owners of The Watchman, H.L. Darr and A.A. Gilbert. The newspaper, the Horry Dispatch, was discontinued in 1862 because of the upheaval caused by the Civil War. Mr. Osteen worked for awhile in Columbia at a printing company, and following the war, joined a newspaper in Charleston, the Carolinian.
When that newspaper folded in 1866, Mr. Osteen returned to Sumter to become a partner with H.L. Darr in operating a newspaper Mr. Darr had started, The Sumter News.
In 1874 The Sumter News’ name was changed to The True Southron. In 1881, in partnership with the Rev. C.C. Brown, Mr. Osteen bought The Sumter Watchman and consolidated it with The True Southron into The Watchman and Southron. He later bought sole controlling interest in the newspaper and continued to operate it until 1930, when it was consolidated into The Sumter Daily Item.
Before that, his son, Hubert Graham Osteen, had worked with him as editor from 1891 to 1894 when, on Oct. 15, 1894, he founded The Sumter Daily Item. Aided and supported by his father, H.G. Osteen operated The Item as editor and publisher. By 1924, his son, Hubert Duvall Osteen, had joined him in running the newspaper. In 1946, H.G. Osteen retired, retaining the title of president of Osteen Publishing Co. Inc. until his death on March 30, 1955. (N.G. Osteen died on Nov. 8, 1936.)
H.D. Osteen remained as editor and publisher of The Sumter Daily Item until 1972, when his son, Hubert Duvall Osteen Jr., who had joined The Item in May of 1963, was named editor. H.D. Osteen retained the title of publisher until 1984, when H.D. Osteen Jr. became editor and publisher. He now holds the position of editor of The Item and chairman of Osteen Publishing Co.
H.D. Osteen retired from active management of the company on Dec. 1, 1986, but was chairman of the company at the time of his death on April 14, 1987. He was succeeded as chairman by his wife, Margaret Weeks Osteen, who held that position until her death on May 3, 1996.
The fifth generation of Osteens is involved in directing The Item and Osteen Publishing Co. Hubert Graham Osteen II is editor at large and co-president and secretary of Osteen Publishing Co. Kyle Brown Osteen is co-president of Osteen Publishing Co. John Duvall (Jack) Osteen is publisher of The Item and a vice president of Osteen Publishing Co. Larry Miller serves as general manager of the company.
Today, in 2009, members of the Osteen family have been involved in newspapering in Sumter for over 150 years, which is believed to be the longest continuous family involvement in a newspaper in South Carolina. It is also the oldest family-owned business in Sumter.
Stetson Kennedy, The Man Who Unmasked the Klan
Civil rights crusader Stetson Kennedy died this weekend at his home in Florida at the age of 94. Kennedy, a lifelong Floridian, author, and investigative journalist, infiltrated and exposed the Ku Klux Klan back when that really meant something.
After health issues kept him out of the Army in WWII, Kennedy decided to do something nearly as dangerous back home: go undercover in the KKK. From a 2005 interview:
Well, we're talking about World War II and all my classmates were overseas fighting Nazism and—which is a form of racism, and I had a back injury and was not with them, so in our own back yard we had our own racist terrorists, the Ku Klux Klan. And it occurred to me that someone needed to do a number on them.
Kennedy began doing radio stories on the Klan, and later published a book, The Klan Unmasked, which did a great service by helping to expose the Klan as the ridiculous sheet-wearing morons they were back when they were an actual terrifying force in American life. (A more recent controversy in which Kennedy was accused of embellishing his work was resolved with his reputation intact.)
Kennedy went on to become a lifelong civil rights activist. He also published a respected book of Florida folklore, which we mention so that we can include this quote:
In a 1988 interview, he recalled carrying a sound recorder the size of a large coffee table, "capturing the songs of pogey fishermen at Mayport, railroad gandydancers, Latin cigarmakers, Greek spongers and turpentiners." In "Grits and Grunts: Folkloric Key West," which was published in 2008, Mr. Kennedy quotes Hurston: "Folklore is the boiled-down juice, or pot-likker, of human living."
Gandydancers! Pot-likker! May we all live as interesting lives.
[Jacksonville Times-Union. Photo: AP]
St. Augustine Record editorial re: Stetson Kennedy's Words and Deeds Inspiring New Generations to Protect Human Rights and Our Environment
Posted: August 31, 2011 - 12:01am
The death of William Stetson Kennedy immediately brings to mind these words: Civil rights fighter, Klan infiltrator, courageous, passionate, environmentalist, soft-spoken, sharp-tongued.
We always knew that someday he would leave us. We had fair warning of Kennedy's impending death last week when his wife Sandra Parks emailed that Kennedy was receiving palliative care at Baptist Medical Center South. It was hard to picture this man driven by so many causes not only bedridden but slipping away from us at the age of 94. He died Aug. 27.
Stories, including a fine retrospective in The St. Augustine Record and The Florida Times-Union by writer Charlie Patton, are literally circling the globe through the World Wide Web and The Associated Press. His words and deeds will live on in his eight books, numerous newspaper and broadcast interviews. oral histories, and numerous personal memories.
We are especially mindful of his 2005 induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in Tallahassee. Then-Secretary of State Glenda Hood called him a "literary genius" and "social crusader." Hood summed up how he fit into Florida's cultural consciousness. "He used his art for the betterment of mankind and to the fight against racism."
It wasn't enough for Kennedy to listen to others honor him. Kennedy spread the word that very evening that he was continuing the battle to save Florida's environment. "Man does not live by culture alone," he said. "Man-made Florida is threatening Mother Nature's Florida. There is an obligation for messages, so here's my message: Florida -- Love it or lose it."
As we watch what is happening today with changes in development laws that provide easier opportunities for man-made Florida to grow at the expense of natural Florida, Kennedy's words are truer now six years later.
In an acknowledgement of his efforts to foil the bad guys, ostensibly the KKK in Florida and Georgia 60-plus years ago, Kennedy has said on several occasions, "You can't embrace me without at the same time embracing fair play and equal opportunity." Right on.
But Kennedy also had an intense need to ensure that our state's cultural heritage was preserved. His interest was as keen now as it was in the 1930s when he was a writer and director of the WPA Florida Writers' Project that chronicled Florida's history and heritage.
The depth and extent to which Kennedy's legacy is carried out -- to ensure equality, protect the environment and preserve our cultural history -- will depend on how well we have listened and acted and helped the next generation learn those ways, too.
Updated: 08/30/2011 11:42:01 PM CDT
Stetson Kennedy, 94, a writer who documented daily life in the Depression-era South and who produced a controversial book about the inner workings of the Ku Klux Klan, died Saturday at a hospital in Jacksonville, Fla. He had a subdural hematoma, said his wife, Sandra Parks.
As a member of the Federal Writers' Project, Kennedy worked alongside many famous American authors studying their native regions. He traveled the South describing the struggles of everyday people.
What was probably his best-known work came out of the 1940s, when he set for himself the goal of exposing the Ku Klux Klan and its efforts to terrorize blacks throughout the region.
In "The Klan Unmasked," published in 1954, Kennedy recounted what he said was his infiltration of the Klan, a secretive organization about whose inner operations little was known.
He wrote that he presented himself as "John S. Perkins," using the surname of a deceased uncle who was a former Klansman.
Full of dramatic dialogue, the volume reads like a hard-boiled detective novel. Kennedy's portrayal of the Klan suggested horrors as well as absurdities.
In the first chapter, Kennedy tells of receiving a 2 a.m. phone call and finding the chief of the Klavalier Klub murder squad on the line. Before delivering a "fiery summons," Kennedy wrote, the chieftain, using a code name, initiated the exchange of passwords.
"White," his caller prompted.
"Man," Kennedy returned.
"Native," the caller said.
"Born," Kennedy said he responded.
In recent years, Kennedy has been accused of embellishing his account. In a notable episode, Kennedy's work was featured in the best-selling book "Freakonomics" by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt.
But in a 2006 New York Times Magazine article, they said they had come to have their doubts about Kennedy and his work, suggesting that he had worked with an informant and that some of his material came from public events that he attended as a reporter.
Among those coming to his defense were Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and a friend, who vouched for his truthfulness. Acclaimed oral historian Studs Terkel also defended him vigorously.
Kennedy told the St. Petersburg Times that he did "dramatize" some of his work to help it reach a wider audience.
"It was hardly a cover-up," he told the Associated Press in 2007.
Kennedy has been described as providing information about the Klan's activities to government investigators and the national media. It was part of what he said was an attempt to bring down those he called "homegrown racial terrorists."
When he was 90, he told the Associated Press that the Klan continued to harass him. He would pick up the telephone to hear threats. "We think about you every time we drive by your house," the caller would tell him. He cited numerous attempts to burn his home and said that his dog had been shot.
Kennedy's awareness of discrimination dated to his teenage years, his wife said, when he was a bill collector for his father's furniture store.
Kennedy dropped out of the University of Florida toward the end of the Depression. He worked as a folklorist with the writers' project, which was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. For his 1942 book "Palmetto Country," he drove around Florida with a primitive tape recorder, the St. Petersburg Times reported, collecting the stories of orange pickers and turpentine gatherers.
Daytona News-Journal columnist Mark Lane re: Stetson Kennedy, 94, folklorist, activist, protest candidate, union organizer, writer and storyteller
By MARK LANE, FOOTNOTE
August 31, 2011 12:05 AM Posted in: Footnote
Folklorist, activist, protest candidate, union organizer, writer and storyteller, Stetson Kennedy was a Florida original. He died Saturday at age 94 near St. Augustine.
He was active up to the end. I spoke with him only last March when he was at Stetson University. Stooped, bald, rheumy-eyed and with malfunctioning hearing aids in both ears, he nevertheless took students' questions and spoke optimistically about the current revolts in the Mideast and how young people are the engines of social change.
The Florida he described to the kids must have sounded like another planet. A place racially segregated by law. A place where slavery was still a living memory to some of the oldest people interviewed by the New Deal's Federal Writers Project in Florida, which Kennedy headed up. A place where women were not admitted to the state's flagship public university, the University of Florida.
Kennedy took a writing course with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings -- but felt he didn't get much out of it. He was Zora Neale Hurston's boss -- but she didn't really pay much attention to him. And Woody Guthrie slept on his couch, plugged his books and wrote a song for his independent senatorial campaign. (It was finally recorded by Billy Bragg and the group Wilco in 1997.)
If you've read his obituaries, you'd think the only thing Kennedy did was infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan using an uncle's name and write the expose, "I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan," later retitled, "The Klan Unmasked."
Although the Klan book had the most impact, my favorite Kennedy book is his 1942 "Palmetto Country." It's a book about Florida's history, plants, politics, folklore, songs, economics, fishing, backwoods lore, the rise of the cigar industry, plus a bunch of random stories he recorded working for the Federal Writers Project.
According to his website, a doctor, checking to see how lucid he was in his last hours, asked him where he was from.
"The planet Earth," he replied.
And it's a planet that will be less rich without him.
Times-Union columnist Tonyaa Weathersbee re: passing of W. Stetson Kennedy, "a man far ahead of his time"
Submitted by Tonyaa Weathersbee on August 31, 2011 - 7:50am
This past week brought the unveiling of a national memorial to Martin Luther King Jr., and the death of a local legend who was working to stamp out racial injustice long before the civil rights icon laid out his dream for crushing it.
Last Saturday, William Stetson Kennedy died peacefully at age 94. Which was a miracle, since he spent most of his life confronting forces that used violence and intimidation.
Kennedy dared to be a man far ahead of his time. That must have taken some doing back in the 1940s.
That was the decade that the U.S. Supreme Court banned discrimination in interstate travel in 1946, and President Harry Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces two years later. Those changes kicked off a slow, decades-long march toward desegregation.
The Ku Klux Klan also was there.
Florida and Georgia were strongholds for the hate group during that time, and between 1921 and 1946, 61 black people had been lynched in Florida alone.
In 1946, however, Kennedy wrote the book "Southern Exposure," the first of his many efforts to expose some of the hatred that inspired such killings by infiltrating Klan meetings.
As it turned out Kennedy had to go all the way to France to get his book published in 1954, after rewriting it and retitling it "The Klan Unmasked." This was followed by "I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan," and "The Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A."
Kennedy's agitating didn't win him any friends.
Also in later years, his writings were followed by controversy: While many thought "The Klan Unmasked," had been a work of non-fiction, it turned out to be a fact-based novel.
Nonetheless, a Times-Union review found that didn't deter from the fact that Kennedy did risk his life simply by going undercover to Klan meetings, and by writing stories and providing information about them to the authorities.
That still took some doing. Because at that time, many people either supported the Klan or hoped that, like the weather, the hatred too would soon pass.
What also took some doing was Kennedy's decision to put himself on the front lines of that battle against segregation and injustice.
He joined black protestors in 1960 who were trying to desegregate downtown department store lunch counters, and he was on the scene on Aug. 27 of that year - the day which would come to be known as Ax Handle Saturday. That was when a mob of angry whites attacked black protestors with ax handles - leaving them and the city's history bloodied.
And Kennedy also earned himself a letter of appreciation from King for his dispatches on the civil rights movement.
For most of the remainder of his life Kennedy continued to work for civil rights and social justice. But since he never got around to writing his own story, I'm left to wonder about how he managed to push himself to do the work that he did.
It would have been easy enough for him to do nothing - or to confine his activism to his writings. Kennedy was, after all, a white man who didn't have to deal with the indignities of Jim Crow. He had the luxury of leaving those changes to time and fate.
But he didn't.
So in the week that King's memorial was unveiled, here in North Florida we lost an icon that had, for decades, embodied what he once called the "ultimate measure of a man."
Said King: "[It] is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
That was a measure that Kennedy lived up to - and I'm sure that somewhere, King is saying, "Well done."
email@example.com, (904) 359-4251
Mark Woods' blog re: Stetson Kennedy, a national civil rights hero from "the planet Earth," who died here last Saturday
Submitted by Mark Woods on August 31, 2011 - 7:22am
Mark Woods' Blog
According to Stetson Kennedy's family, shortly before he died Saturday, a doctor checking his awareness asked: "Where are you from?"
"The planet Earth," Kennedy responded.
For a man who wrote hundreds of thousands of words in his 94 years, it was a fitting farewell, right up there with whiskey distiller Jack Daniel saying, "One last drink, please."
Stetson Kennedy spent his life trying to make the world a better place to live. So in a grand, philosophical sense, that seems about right. He was from the planet Earth. But there is little question exactly where on earth he was from. It was a place that he always loved, even when he found hate.
He was from Florida. Northeast Florida.
In a 2009 interview with the St. Johns Sun, he said: "I traveled later in life overseas and around the world looking for a place more Floridian than Florida. I found palm trees and bathing beauties, but after eight years I came on back because the weeds weren't right."
He explained that when you're crawling around as a toddler, then playing as a kid, you have an "eyeball relationship with weeds and a lot of other things."
So he preserved a patch of land and water and weeds in St. Johns County.
Not long after I made the switch from sports to local columnist, I spent some time tramping through it with Kennedy. At the time, Kennedy was in his mid-80s. And even with his body showing the signs of age, he exuded a toughness and confidence I only wish I had.
I could picture him going undercover and infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan.
I wanted to talk writing. And he said something similar to a quote from him that appeared in The Associated Press' obituary: "The truth of the matter is, I never aspired to be a writer - writing was a means to an end. I can't recommend it. There's no money in it."
That's part of what I remember. The other part is the homestead he called Beluthahatchee.
The historical marker at the site says author Zora Neale Hurston defined "Beluthahatchee" as a mythical "Florida Shangri-la, where all unpleasantness is forgiven and forgotten." Other stories say it's Seminole Indian for "heaven."
Once upon a time, it was surrounded by wilderness. Now it is tucked off Florida 13, near a Hess station, surrounded by suburbia. Which only makes it more precious, more heavenly.
Before visiting Kennedy there, I had driven by it many times, oblivious to its existence.
A drive down a dirt road led to a rickety house, perched on stilts, full of books and odds and ends. The back deck overlooks the Beluthatchee Lake and some of the 70 acres he bought in 1948. He sold most of it, but kept 4 acres for himself, eventually stipulating that it become a public park and museum after his death.
This land was his land. Now it is yours.
You can still picture Woody Guthrie writing and singing and skinny-dipping here. It is a place that feels like old Florida, with all kinds of wildlife and vegetations. Oaks, saw palmetto, magnolia, cabbage palms and weeds.
Don't forget the weeds.
Stetson Kennedy never did.
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Hurricane Irene raised the level of the tides and covered the marsh, giving us spectacular sunsets for several days, while thankfully skirting Florida's coast before heading north.
Remembering Stetson Kennedy, American Hero, Folklorist, Klanbuster, Truthteller, Troublemaker, Peacemaker, the Homer of Florida
Stetson Kennedy, in all the delightful years I've known him, has always questioned authority --whether it be the alderman or the president. He has always asked the question ''Why?'' Whether it be waging a war based on an outrageous lie or any behavior he considers undemocratic, he has always asked the provocative question. In short, he could well be described as a ''troublemaker'' in the best sense of the word. With half a dozen Stetson Kennedys, we can transform our society into one of truth, grace and beauty.
Stetson noted that the day of his death was the 51st anniversary of “Ax Handle Saturday,” a momentous event in Jacksonville, Florida history that went unreported by the local newspaper at the time. See below.
Six years ago, I was introduced to Stetson Kennedy by our mutual friend, David Thundershield Queen (now-deceased Native American advocate) at Stetson’s birthday party at Beluthahatchee. Stetson impressed me with his courage, intellect and dogged determination. I enjoyed the pleasure of his company, whether talking about life or poring over FBI documents. Stetson was a kindred spirit. I was humbled and flattered when Stetson called me “Stetson Kennedy, Jr.” upon our second meeting.
I had lunch with Stetson Kennedy earlier this year, at Athena (local Greek Restaurant, across from the former Slave Market, where two civil rights monuments now stand). I asked Stetson if he knew where our City Manager was that day. “I don’t usually follow him,” Stetson said. I told him that City Manager John Regan was visiting three Civil Rights Museums, then on his way to meeting our former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, to discuss the Andrew Young Crossing Memorial. Upon hearing the news, Stetson Kennedy was so proud – he almost cried. Our City of St. Augustine has come so far in such a short time, and Stetson Kennedy got to see it all. Stetson exemplified Mahatma Gandhi’s precept: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Stetson Kennedy was proud that our Nation’s Oldest European-founded City will soon have a National Civil Rights Museum, thanks to the courage of the people who demonstrated here in 1964, including Ambassador Andrew Young.
Stetson Kennedy lived to see an African-American elected President of the United States and another African-American elected to be Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida. That’s where it all began for Stetson, as a young boy who heard about his African-American nanny raped by vicious white men, retaliation for asserting her rights on a Jacksonville bus. Kennedy helped end the Klan as he knew it: the motto of his life might be “Eracism.”
Stetson Kennedy’s ideas live on, in the spirit of the character Tom Joad from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath: I'll be all around in the dark - I'll be everywhere. Wherever you can look - wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready, and when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too.”
Stetson Kennedy didn’t live nearly long enough to see the enactment of a St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore, but he loved the idea (and hoped it might include his beloved homestead, Beleuthahatchee, now a county park and national literary landmark). Let’s enact the Park bill in Stetson’s honor.
August 30, 2011
Stetson Kennedy, Who Infiltrated and Exposed the Klan, Dies at 94
By WILLIAM GRIMES
The New York Times
Stetson Kennedy, a folklorist and social crusader who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s and wrote a lurid exposé of its activities, “I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan,” died on Saturday in St. Augustine, Fla. He was 94.
The cause was complications of bleeding of the brain, said his wife, Sandra Parks.
Mr. Kennedy developed his sense of racial injustice early. A native of Jacksonville, Fla., he saw the hardships of black Floridians when he knocked on doors collecting payments for his father’s furniture store. His social concerns developed further when he began collecting folklore data for the Federal Writers’ Project in Key West, Tampa and camps for turpentine workers in north Florida, where conditions were close to slavery.
After being rejected by the Army because of a bad back, he threw himself into unmasking the Ku Klux Klan as well as the Columbians, a Georgia neo-Nazi group. He was inspired in part by a tale told by an interview subject whose friend had been the victim of a racial murder in Key West.
As an agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Kennedy, by his own account, infiltrated the Klavern in Stone Mountain and worked as a Klavalier, or Klan strong-arm man. He leaked his findings to, among others, the Washington Post columnist Drew Pearson, the Anti-Defamation League and the producers of the radio show “Superman,” who used information about the Klan’s rituals and code words in a multi-episode story titled “Clan of the Fiery Cross.”
In a celebrated exploit, he stole financial information from a wastebasket outside the office of the Klan’s Imperial Wizard, Sam Roper, in Atlanta.
The information led the Internal Revenue Service to challenge the group’s status as a charitable organization and demand nearly $700,000 in back taxes. He helped draft the brief that Georgia used to revoke the Klan’s national corporate charter in 1947.
After writing a series of articles on the Klan for the left-wing newspaper The Daily Compass — some with datelines like “Inside the Invisible Empire” and “Somewhere in Klan Territory” — he published “I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan” in 1954. It was republished in 1990 as “The Klan Unmasked.”
In 2006, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, the authors of “Freakonomics,” reported in The New York Times that Mr. Kennedy had greatly exaggerated and dramatized his Klan-busting. The authors had interviewed Mr. Kennedy for their book and used his information about Klan symbolism, language and gestures to illustrate an economic point, but in telling Mr. Kennedy’s story they elicited new interest in his claims, especially from a Florida writer, Ben Green.
Mr. Green, while researching the life of Harry T. Moore, a black civil rights advocate murdered in 1952, and collaborating for a time with Mr. Kennedy on the project, read Mr. Kennedy’s archives in Atlanta and at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.
Mr. Green concluded that Mr. Kennedy had relied heavily on the experiences of a man identified by the pseudonym John Brown, a union worker and former Klan official who had changed his ways and offered to infiltrate the Klan. Mr. Kennedy later confirmed that he had relied in part on an informant and that he had woven some of his testimony into his first-person account to make it more compelling. But he was unapologetic.
“I wanted to show what was happening at the time,” he told The Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville in 2006. “Who gives a damn how it’s written? It is the one and only document of the working Klan.”
William Stetson Kennedy was born on Oct. 5, 1916, in Jacksonville, where he developed an interest in local turns of phrase and sayings that he called “folksays,” jotting them down in notebooks.
While attending the University of Florida, where he took a writing course with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, he struck out on his own to do field work in Key West. There he married the first of his seven wives, a Cuban who gave him entree into the local émigré community for his folklore work. While gathering material for the Federal Writers’ Project, he traveled across Florida with the writer Zora Neale Hurston.
His Florida research found its way into “Palmetto Country” (1942), a folkloric survey of territory from southern Alabama and Georgia down to Key West, and the series American Folkways, edited by Erskine Caldwell. In 1994 he returned to folklore in “South Florida Folklife,” written with Peggy Bulger and Tina Bucuvalas, and “Grits and Grunts: Folkloric Key West” (2008).
Most of his writing was devoted to campaigns for social justice. A series on racial segregation written with Elizabeth Gardner for The Daily Compass in 1949 formed the basis of “Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A.” His other books included “Passage to Violence” (1954), a fictionalized version of his Klan experiences; “Southern Exposure” (1946), and “After Appomattox: How the South Won the War” (1995).
In addition to his wife, Sandra, Mr. Kennedy is survived by a son, Loren; a grandson, and several stepchildren.
Mr. Kennedy pursued the Klan and racist politicians through a variety of means. In 1950 he ran a write-in campaign for senator. Woody Guthrie, who lived on Mr. Kennedy’s lakeside property near Jacksonville, writing 88 songs there, composed a campaign song for him, titled “Stetson Kennedy,” declaring:
Stetson Kennedy, he’s that man;
Walks and talks across our land;
Talkin’ out against the Ku Klux Klan.
For every fiery cross and note;
I’ll get Kennedy a hundred votes.
Ridicule, too, formed part of Mr. Kennedy’s arsenal. In 1947 he tried, unsuccessfully, to incorporate his own shadow Klan so that he could sue the real Klan whenever it used the same name. He appointed himself Imperial Wizard and installed, as senior officers, an African-American, a Roman Catholic, a Jew, a Japanese-American and a Cherokee.
Sunday, 08/28/11 8:00am - Weekend Edition Sunday
Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s and wrote about it in his book The Klan Unmasked. Guest host John Ydstie remembers the folklorist, who died Saturday at the age of 94.
JOHN YDSTIE, host: Stetson Kennedy was an important figure in the history of the Ku Klux Klan. But he's a man the Klan would rather forget.
Kennedy, who died yesterday at the age of 94, infiltrated the Klan in the 1940s and undermined its power. He wrote books about the experience, shared the names of prominent Klan members with journalists, and aided authorities in Klan prosecutions.
In 2005, during an interview of NPR's TALK OF THE NATION, host Neal Conan asked Kennedy why he took the risk.
NEAL CONAN: If you'd been exposed, you would have been in serious trouble.
STETSON KENNEDY: Well, we're talking about World War II and all my classmates were overseas fighting Nazism, and - which is a form of racism. And I had a back injury and was not with them, so in our own backyard we had our own racist terrorists, the Ku Klux Klan. And it occurred to me that someone needed to do a number on them.
CONAN: Some of what you found out made it on to the radio, which was, of course, no TV in those days. This was a big deal.
KENNEDY: Prior to TV, yes. And Drew Pearson, of the "Washington Merry-Go-Round," had a weekly coast-to-coast radio program. So every Sunday we would broadcast the minutes of the Klan's last meeting. And I would provide the names of all the policemen and deputies, and judges and prosecutors, and businessmen and officeholders who had attended the Klan meeting. And, of course, they never showed up again.
YDSTIE: Stetson's books about the Klan include "The Klan Unmasked" and the "Jim Crow Guide to the USA." And he contributed to the popular "Superman" radio show, exposing the Klan's racism and ridiculing its rituals, in an episode titled "Superman versus the Grand Dragon."
Stetson Kennedy was also a prominent folklorist. During the Great Depression he had a job with the Works Progress Administration, recording the stories of ordinary Southerners.
Kennedy died yesterday at a hospice in St. Augustine, Florida.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.
Morris News Service: Stetson Kennedy dies -- Author and civil rights activist was 94, wrote 'The Klan Unmasked'
Photo by Daron Dean
Stetson Kennedy dies -- Author and civil rights activist was 94, wrote 'The Klan Unmasked'
Posted: August 28, 2011 - 12:10amPhotos Back | Next
By Charlie Patton Copyright 2011 . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Morris News Service
William Stetson Kennedy, whose radical opposition to Jim Crow racial segregation made him a pariah in his hometown early in life and an honored elder statesman late in life, died at 9:25 a.m. Saturday at Baptist Medical Center South. He was 94.
"Stetson Kennedy was a walking around reminder of the principle ... that people's basic decency outweighed the customs, laws, misconceptions and violence of racism," Mr. Kennedy's wife, Sandra Parks, wrote in a statement. "Although millions of white Southerners were uneasy about segregation, Stetson was among the few who took the risks of direct action against it."
Turned down for military service in World War II because of a back injury, Mr. Kennedy, who grew up in Jacksonville, decided in the early 1940s to become an investigative journalist targeting groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Having already published "Palmetto Country," an acclaimed book on Florida folklore, in 1942, Mr. Kennedy followed that with "Southern Exposure" in 1946, a book about Southern hate groups.
He then worked on a book that would eventually be published as "The Klan Unmasked," filled with incidents uncovered when he and another man began infiltrating meetings of the Klan and another Georgia hate group, the Columbians. He thought that book would be published in 1948.
But as the fear of Communism swept America, anti-fascists like Mr. Kennedy were viewed with suspicion. He spent six years searching for a publisher and rewriting the book to make it more appealing to a general audience.
"The Klan Unmasked" was finally published in France in 1954. The only American publication was a heavily edited, lurid paperback titled "I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan."
His next book, "The Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A," his last book for four decades, was also published in France, by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
The republication of "Palmetto Country" in 1988 by Florida A&M Press, and his other books in 1990 by the Florida Atlantic University Press helped turn Mr. Kennedy, by then in his 70s, into a widely admired figure. Once "the most hated man in North Florida," to quote what a Florida professor once told the St. Petersburg Times, he became one of the most honored.
His late fame was not without controversy. In January, 2006, journalist Stephen J. Dubner and economist Steven D. Levitt, authors of the best-selling book "Freakonomics," wrote a column about Mr. Kennedy in The New York Times Magazine.
The authors, who lionized Mr. Kennedy in their book, questioned in a column headlined "Hoodwinked" whether Mr. Kennedy had ever personally infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan.
The Florida Times-Union, after reviewing the microfilmed Stetson Kennedy Collection at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, a branch of New York City's public library, concluded that "The Klan Unmasked" was not a straightforward work of non-fiction but rather a fact-based novel that had a lead character, Stetson Kennedy, doing and seeing things that in some cases had actually been done and seen by other people.
But The Times-Union also concluded that Mr. Kennedy had risked his life by going undercover to meetings, writing stories about the activities and providing information to those investigating the groups for criminal activity.
In a subsequent interview, Mr. Kennedy admitted that he intermingled events witnessed by several people into a single narrative to make his story more compelling. He also said he had always been open about this fact -- stories and reviews written in 1990 don't support that claim -- but that he regretted he didn't write an introduction for the 1990 edition that would have made his method clearer.
In any case, the controversy soon passed. During a 2008 visit to Jacksonville, Levitt said that, while some of what Mr. Kennedy wrote "was fictionalized ... I still think he's an American hero."
Raised in Jacksonville, Mr. Kennedy graduated from Lee High School. He enrolled at the University of Florida, where he took a journalism class taught by novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. But he didn't stay in school long.
In 1935, at the age of 18, he moved to Key West looking for work. He became head of the Florida Folklore Project, part of the federal Work Progress Administration's Writers Project.
Working with the now-famous ethno-musicologist Alan Lomax and with Zora Neale Hurston, who was early in her career as a celebrated novelist, his job was to compile folklore for a WPA guide to Florida.
In a 1988 interview, he recalled carrying a sound recorder the size of a large coffee table, "capturing the songs of pogey fishermen at Mayport, railroad gandydancers, Latin cigarmakers, Greek spongers and turpentiners."
In "Grits and Grunts: Folkloric Key West," which was published in 2008, Mr. Kennedy quotes Hurston: "Folklore is the boiled-down juice, or pot-likker, of human living."
A good deal of the material he gathered ended up in "Palmetto Country," which was part of the American Folkways Series edited by Erskine Caldwell. Many people consider it Mr. Kennedy's finest book.
"I think it set the stage for a lot of other folklore books for the general public," said Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, who wrote her doctoral dissertation on Mr. Kennedy.
One of the book's fans was the folksinger Woody Guthrie, who became pals with Mr. Kennedy. In 1950, when Mr. Kennedy was living on family land south of Jacksonville in an area then called Switzerland (now officially known as St. Johns), Guthrie came and stayed with him.
Mr. Kennedy had launched a quixotic campaign as a write-in candidate for U.S. Senate, and Guthrie wrote two campaign songs, "Kennedy, He's That Man" and "Talking Stetson Kennedy."
Mr. Kennedy spent part of the 1950s in Europe, going there in 1952 and, depending on which account you read, returning in either 1956 or 1960. Mr. Kennedy could be vague about biographical details.
Widowed in 2002 when his wife of 33 years, teacher Joyce Ann Kennedy, passed away, Mr. Kennedy married Parks, a St. Augustine historian, in 2006. At the time he told a reporter: "I'll leave it up to the historians to figure out how many times I've been married. In the past when people asked me that question, my response has always been 'not nearly often enough.'"
For the record, most accounts indicate that was his sixth marriage.
After his return to the United States, Mr. Kennedy settled on the family land in northern St. Johns County, having bought out his siblings. His home overlooked Lake Beluthahatchee, which he created by damming a creek. He would spend the next five decades trying to preserve his piece of old Florida against the encroachments of civilization.
In 2003, the Friends of Libraries USA designated Beluthahatchee the nation's 63rd Literary Landmark. Two years later, the Florida Communities Trust approved the creation of Beluthahatchee Park, which encompasses about 5 acres.
After his return to Jacksonville, Mr. Kennedy got involved in the local civil rights movement. In 1960 he would often join demonstrators who were attempting to desegregate downtown lunch counters.
Alton Yates, who was a leader of the NAACP Youth Council, which organized the sit-ins, said Kennedy actually warned police that members of the Klan were planning to attack the demonstrators.
But the police ignored Mr. Kennedy and, on Aug. 27, a mob of white men wielding ax handles went after members of the group, who were demonstrating at W.T. Grant, an event now known as Ax Handle Saturday.
Mr. Kennedy later said he tried to run from the mob, then changed tactics and merged with it to escape the violence.
At the time, Mr. Kennedy was also writing dispatches about the civil rights movement for the Pittsburgh Courier, then the most widely read black newspaper in the country. His journalism earned him a letter of appreciation from Martin Luther King.
In 1964, Mr. Kennedy went to work for the federal anti-poverty agency in Jacksonville. Yates, who headed the agency from 1968-72, said Mr. Kennedy played a key role in getting the agency funded initially and then wrote many of the grant applications that kept it going.
He remained with the agency until 1979, when, after feuding with his boss, he was fired.
While at the agency, Mr. Kennedy would send "qualified young black people" to work at City Hall, his wife wrote:
"When city officials saw that their 'free clerical workers' were black, the applicants returned to Stetson's office rejected and angry. He insisted they keep going back until waves of persistent young people broke through local government's hiring barriers."
"Stetson's contributions were just so vast," Yates said. "He was one of the greatest contributors to the anti-poverty and civil rights movements in the country. He was just a unique individual."
'Dissident at large'
When his job at the anti-poverty agency ended, Mr. Kennedy settled into life at Beluthahatchee, a largely forgotten "dissident at large," which was the title of an autobiography he planned but never completed. But a decade later, he was rediscovered and honors began to pour in, beginning with Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1988 and continuing through the Dorothy Dodd Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Historical Society last year. His website, www.stetsonkennedy.com, lists 35 other awards in those years, including the state's highest award, the Heartland Award for lifetime service to his community in 1998, and his induction into the state's Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2005.
But the event that Mr. Kennedy called "the highlight of his career" was the election of an African-American, Alvin Brown, as Jacksonville mayor, historian Wayne Wood said.
"He's been campaigning for Alvin Brown since the 1930s, before Alvin Brown was born," Wood said.
Brown released a statement that said: "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."
"Stetson spent his life trying to make North Florida be a better place," Bulger said. "He's never stopped having an opinion and sharing that opinion and just being courageous."
On the day he checked into the Baptist South emergency room, Mr. Kennedy told the physician, "that every person has a cause and his was finished," Mr. Kennedy's wife wrote. "Few people see their life's purpose so dramatically fulfilled.
"Stetson Kennedy passed away realizing that satisfaction."
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Loren Kennedy, of Raleigh, N.C.; four stepdaughters, Leslie Reda, of Ft. Lauderdale, Karen Roumillat, of St. Johns, Katherine Jones, of Newton, Mass., and Becky Gay, of Jacksonville; a sister, Jean Curran, of Jacksonville; and a grandchild.
There will be a celebration of his life at 2 p.m. Oct. 1 at Beluthahatchee.
The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Stetson Kennedy Foundation, 1523 S.R. 13, St. Johns, Florida 32257.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Stetson Kennedy in his house near the St. Johns River, surrounded by books, videotapes, antiques and other memorabilia. Kennedy’s book Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State was part of the New Deal d
Florida's Homer, folklorist Stetson Kennedy, dies at age 94
By Jeff Klinkenberg, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Sunday, August 28, 2011
Florida has lost a true icon. Stetson Kennedy, folklorist, author and civil rights activist, died Saturday morning in a hospital near Jacksonville. He was 94.
"He was a giant," said Peggy Bulger, a friend, protege and director of American Folklife for the Library of Congress. "He never quit working. Last time I talked to him he was still full of p--- and vinegar."
He was Florida's Homer, a talking history book, a troublemaker, a scamp, a radical and a shameless promoter of everything Stetson.
I got to know him late in his life. Now and again I visited him at the North Florida home he called Beluthahatchee — "Heaven" in the Seminole Indian language. His little paradise, sort of a rickety cabin on stilts perched over a swamp near the St. Johns River, will become a museum now that he is gone.
He grew up down the road in Jacksonville, left home for the University of Florida, enrolled in a writing class taught by an up-and-coming author named Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, quit college, took the train to Key West, drank rum, chased women, married his first wife and wrote down everything he found interesting, which was quite a lot.
He made his mark during the Depression as a writer and editor of Florida: A Guide to the Southernmost State, which was part of a Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal project to provide work to unemployed writers. Helping him gather information in the Florida hinterlands was another pauper, the African-American author Zora Neale Hurston, who had recently published her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Kennedy could have ended his career at that moment. The guide, considered an important historic document today, secured his legacy. But he had mixed feelings about a book meant to be carried in the glove compartment of tourist cars. "I thought it was a chamber of commerce kind of book," he once told me. "The idea was to get people to come to Florida and spend money and help the economy. There was excellent information in that book, but it hardly told the real story of Florida."
Kennedy was more proud of Palmetto Country, published in 1942. Driving through the state with a coffee table-sized tape recorder, he collected the stories of orange pickers, spongers, cigar makers, mullet fishermen, gandy dancers and turpentine gatherers. Kennedy called his favorite book "sort of a barefoot social history of Florida," but it was also a shocking expose of Southern violence and racism.
Later he fictionalized his investigation of the nation's best-known hate group and called the book I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan. Accused of Communist sympathies, he fled to France after many death threats.
In Europe, he wrote the Jim Crow Guide about how "separate and equal" actually worked for African-Americans, but failed to interest an American publisher. In Paris, the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sarte not only published the book but arranged for distribution in the United States.
Another friend was folk singer Woody Guthrie, whose This Land Is Your Land was a poor man's sarcastic reply to Irving Berlin's patriotic God Bless America. Guthrie often wintered in Florida with Kennedy, slept in his hammock, skinny dipped in the pond and wrote poetry on the back porch. In 1950, Guthrie wrote one he called Stetson Kennedy. In 1997, a band called Wilco and a rocker named Billy Bragg put the poem to music. Stetson Kennedy is on iTunes.
"He knew everybody," said Tina Bucuvalas, the former director of Florida Folklife who now leads a similar program in Tarpon Springs. "What a life!'
But it was an amazingly messy one. A Don Juan, he enjoyed romances with many women, some who turned out to be married during their trysts. Between girlfriends he still managed to marry seven times, according to his closest friends, though he admitted to having tied the knot on a mere five occasions.
He feuded with other writers, sometimes about who deserved what credit or how much money. Sometimes he needlessly exaggerated his own already considerable accomplishments.
In 2005, his Klan investigations were praised in Freakonomics, a blockbuster best seller. But the following year the authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner took back their kind words in a New York Times column, claiming they had been fooled. The authors somehow had mistaken Kennedy's steamy Klan novel — full of sexy dames and gats hidden under the pillow — for a work of serious scholarship. Kennedy, who enjoyed seeing his name in print, had not bothered to set them straight.
"Let's be honest about understanding Stetson Kennedy's life," said Gary Mormino, the co-director of the Florida Studies program at the University of South Florida, on Saturday. "He held passionate and unpopular opinions about race relations, the Klan, and the nobility of plain folk when such beliefs were wildly unpopular."
Kennedy made some money during his life, but was better at spending it and chronically lived on the edge of poverty, often depending on the charity of friends and fans who'd show up, often unannounced, at his door. Sometimes it was a widow with a casserole or an Audubon birdwatcher who hoped to photograph the osprey nesting in the swamp.
On one visit, the nearly deaf Kennedy handed me his telephone when he couldn't hear the caller. On the line was his old friend from Chicago, Studs Terkel, the oral historian who had won a Pulitzer Prize for a book about World War II. Terkel, a fellow veteran of the New Deal project, had written something he wanted to share with his friend. I took dictation.
"Tell him I'm on death's door," Kennedy said. He was hardly joking. Pale and fragile, he walked with difficulty, stopping often to gulp air from a breathing tube. But after a short nap — while I looked at his scrapbooks in the den — he would emerge strangely energized. He told me he planned an autobiography, a "Stetson Kennedy Reader" for college students and a book about old Key West. At the time he was 89.
He never finished writing his own story or the anthology. But Grits & Grunts, a delightful collection of his Key West memories from the Depression, came out in 2008. It contains stories and songs that would otherwise be lost to antiquity, sketches of characters he knew as Copper Lips, Black Caesar and Monkey Man.
Like Stetson Kennedy, they're gone but won't be forgotten.
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Copyright 2011 St. Petersburg Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: August 28, 2011
MIAMI (AP) — Stetson Kennedy, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan six decades ago and exposed its secrets but was criticized for possibly exaggerating his exploits, died on Saturday. He was 94.
His death, in hospice care near St. Augustine, Fla., was announced on his Web site.
In the 1940s, Mr. Kennedy used the “Superman” radio show to expose and ridicule the Klan’s rituals. In the 1950s he wrote “I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan,” which was later renamed “The Klan Unmasked.”
Peggy Bulger, the director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, was a friend of Mr. Kennedy and did her doctoral thesis on his work as a folklorist. “Exposing their folklore — all their secret handshakes, passwords and how silly they were, dressing up in white sheets” — was one of the strongest blows to the Klan, she said in a 2007 interview with The Associated Press.
Mr. Kennedy began his crusades against what he called “homegrown racial terrorists” during World War II after he was deemed unworthy for military service because of a back injury. “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,” Mr. Kennedy said. “At least I could see if I could do something about the racist terrorists in our backyard.”
Mr. Kennedy infiltrated the Klan by using the name of a deceased uncle, who had been a member, as a way to gain trust and membership. But the Klan did not know that Mr. Kennedy was giving its secrets to the outside world, including the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Anti-Defamation League and Drew Pearson, a columnist for The Washington Post.
Using evidence taken from a top Klan official’s wastebasket, Mr. Kennedy enabled the Internal Revenue Service to press for the collection of an outstanding $685,000 tax lien from the Klan in 1944. He also helped draft the brief used by the State of Georgia to revoke the Klan’s national corporate charter in 1947.
Mr. Kennedy said he always feared exposure and remained scared throughout his life.
In the late 1940s, Mr. Kennedy took his fight to a national stage. While working as a consultant to the “Superman” radio show, he provided information on the Klan’s rituals and secret code words to producers. The resulting episodes were titled “Clan of the Fiery Cross.”
Mr. Kennedy testified before a federal grand jury in Miami about the Klan’s chain of command in the 1951 bombing death of Harry T. Moore, a Florida leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and about bombings aimed at black, Catholic and Jewish centers in Miami.
He also presented evidence in federal court about other Klan bombings and about violence aimed at preventing blacks from voting in the 1944 and 1946 elections.
Late in life, Mr. Kennedy faced accusations that some of his writings about the Klan were fabricated or exaggerated. Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, co-authors of the book “Freakonomics,” alleged that Mr. Kennedy misrepresented portions of “I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan,” as did Ben Green, a Tallahassee author who wrote about the civil rights era.
“He’s done some very admirable things,” Mr. Green once said. “He stood up against the Klan at a time when that was an unpopular position.
“The problem, and the saddest part of all this, is that what he actually did was apparently not enough for him,” he continued. “So Stetson has felt compelled to exaggerate and embellish what he actually did, and in some cases, make up or take credit for things he didn’t do.”
Mr. Kennedy acknowledged that some of the material in his writings had come from another man who also infiltrated the Klan but did not want his name used. He said he wove his and the other man’s experiences into a narrative to make them more compelling.
“It was hardly a cover-up,” Mr. Kennedy said. “I’ve been doing this for too many decades to owe anybody much of an apology.”
“It sort of hurt my feelings,” he added.
William Stetson Kennedy was born on Oct. 5, 1916, in Jacksonville, Fla., and was related on his mother’s side to John B. Stetson, the hat manufacturer. As a young man, he was a friend of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Yearling.” He later supervised Zora Neale Hurston when they were both collecting folklore in the Florida Writers Project during the Depression.
Mr. Kennedy continued working on books and speeches into his 90s. He married in 2006 for a seventh time, to Sandra Parks, an author and bookstore owner in St. Augustine.
“The truth of the matter is, I never aspired to be a writer — writing was a means to the end,” Mr. Kennedy once said. “I can’t recommend it. There’s no money in it.”
Ax Handle Saturday, 1960: A day of defiance in black and white
By Deirdre Conner
Downtown sandwich shop Desert Rider is nothing if not old-fashioned.
If you stop by the stalwart Hogan Street lunch spot, order from the menu on the wall - you had better know what a "Donna's Fave" is. Come in on a hot summer day, and they'll offer you a refill on the cold Coke you're slurping as you wait for your sandwich. Have a seat on one of the stools at the counter, and you'll find yourself surrounded by a diverse lunch crowd.
In a booth, a bus driver reads the paper on his break. At the counter, two businessmen check their smartphones. A stooped retiree rolls her oxygen tank to the cash register. A mother consults the menu while her daughter clutches a library book.
It seems hard to believe that just steps outside what is now Desert Rider, violence once erupted over something so simple as that - just lunch.
On a sweltering summer day 50 years ago, the street outside was shattered with screams and spattered with blood.
Black youth, attempting to sit down at a whites-only lunch counter for hamburgers and egg salad sandwiches, were accosted by an angry mob wielding ax handles.
And suddenly, all of downtown became a melee, leaving dozens of bystanders wounded - and giving Jacksonville a national reputation for violence.
Aug. 27, 1960, now known as Ax Handle Saturday, became a turning point in the city's race relations. Half a century later, some are hoping it again will be a rallying cry.
Some things change, some don't
A few blocks from Desert Rider, a seeming embodiment of integration, sits its antithesis.
At the county courthouse, the problems brought about by poverty and discrimination and aggravated by drugs seem endless. There, the aftereffects of segregation linger in the form of stubbornly wide disparities in economic opportunities, education and health.
Many of those stark disparities first came to light in a 1946 study - the first of its kind - called "Jacksonville Looks at its Negro Community." And today, it illustrates much of what has and has not changed since the post-World War II era.
In the early 1940s, about 27 percent of the state's population was African-Americans, yet they made up 60 percent of prison admissions, according to the report. Today, 16 percent of the state's overall population is African-American, yet they make up 46 percent of admitted prison inmates.
In 2008 and in 1946, the rate of infant mortality was twice as high among African-Americans as for whites in Jacksonville. And nationally, income inequality between black and white families has not significantly changed in the past 35 years, a Brookings Institution study found.
Yet other problems have dramatically improved since that time. In 1946, there was not a single public swimming pool, beach or park open to blacks in Jacksonville, the only city of its size in the state without such access at that time.
In 1946, there were no African-American police officers in the city.
In 1960, segregationist politics still ruled in Jacksonville and Florida. Fifty years later, the nation's first black president was helped into office by Florida's support and an evenly divided electorate in Jacksonville. Most whites in Jacksonville didn't vote for Obama, but without those who did, he might not have won the state.
'We are going to be all right'
Alton Yates never got that hamburger when he sat down at the Woolworth's lunch counter on Aug. 13, 1960, the day of the first demonstration.
It would be months before Yates, one of the leaders of the NAACP Youth Council, would be served there.
"Things are just so much better today as a result, I believe, of the demonstrations and the meetings after the demonstrations," Yates said. "Conditions for people of color were awful."
Fifty years later, there are still times when Yates struggles to make sense of the racial tensions that exist in the city. He brings up the recent controversy over the appointment of a Muslim university professor to the city's Human Rights Commission, and sighs deeply.
"In this day and age, how do you discriminate against anyone because of their race, because of their sexual orientation, because of their religious background?" he said. "The kind of shame that I felt when I was going through [Ax Handle Saturday] I felt then."
Yet Yates said he feels inspired when talking to youth. He sometimes speaks at Rutledge Pearson Elementary, named for the social studies teacher that inspired the Youth Council members.
"When I listen to those young people, I know we are going to be all right," he said.
Rodney Hurst, president of the Youth Council during the demonstrations, was 16 years old at the time and has recently written a book about the experience. He's hoping the commemoration of Ax Handle Saturday will invite more conversation about black history and race relations.
"We still have lingering problems to this day," he said. More direct conversation is lacking, Hurst said.
Still, there are some efforts under way. A group of nonprofits, spearheaded by the Community Foundation in Jacksonville and OneJax, have undertaken an initiative called Project Breakthrough, intended to begin dismantling structural racism in the city. It also tackles some of the often hidden problems that exacerbate disparities. One example is mortgage denial rates: They are vastly different for blacks versus whites, a disparity that many researchers believe cannot be explained by finances alone.
"There are some amazing conversations going on right now," said Skip Cramer, executive director of Jacksonville Community Council Inc. The nonprofit closely studies the city, including a regular race relations report.
Such conversations are no longer optional, Cramer said, with America and Northeast Florida becoming more racially and ethnically diverse.
"It's different - a lot different - than August 1960," he said.
And addressing disparities in income and education could make or break the city's economy, Cramer said.
The day of a turning point
Some of the footsteps on Hogan Street that terrible day in 1960 belonged to Johnny Holden.
He became one of many black bystanders running for their lives in downtown Jacksonville. Now 94, his memory is still vivid. He fled down Hogan Street, turned on Monroe, ducking behind crowds until he saw the Boomerangs, a gang of black youth who showed up to fight back.
At 44, he couldn't be among the students and young people who joined the nascent civil rights movement as a wave of lunch counter sit-ins began in 1960.
"Older people, we couldn't come out and say what we wanted because we'd lose our jobs," Holden said. "If it hadn't been for the youth, [civil rights] wouldn't have moved as fast as it did."
Perhaps to Holden, the changes seemed to come lightning quick. To others, they would be a long time in the making.
The focus of civil rights history in Jacksonville has been on the violence of Ax Handle Saturday. Yet a resolution would come much later. The demonstrations ceased after Aug. 27 but resumed later in the fall, continuing for months. It wasn't until the following spring, in 1961, that lunch counters downtown agreed to integrate.
Government parks and schools would follow, but much more slowly. Segregationist policies would continue for years - and 1960 would not be the last time violence and rioting erupted over civil rights.
While news of Ax Handle Saturday was splashed around the country, the events of that time have not been very well known locally, said James Crooks, a professor emeritus at the University of North Florida who has written extensively about the city's history.
Outlets from Life Magazine to The St. Petersburg Times covered the events. On Aug. 28, a front page story in The New York Times led with, "Angry bands of club-swinging whites clashed with Negroes in the streets of downtown Jacksonville today."
Yet the events were barely covered in the local mainstream press, including the Times-Union and Jacksonville Journal.
Crooks ranks Ax Handle Saturday alongside the Great Fire of 1901 and city-county consolidation as a turning point in Jacksonville's history.
The 40th anniversary, in 2000, was the first formal citywide commemoration of the day.
As Crooks recalls it, both blacks and whites questioned the commemoration. The Jacksonville Historical Society's decision to participate, he said, passed by a slim margin. "A lot of people didn't want to put it on, they said why are you raising up hurtful memories?"
Although painful, Crooks said, it was a successful effort.
"It was almost like lancing a boil," he said. "You had a sense that, OK, we were now ready to face our history."
And over the years, facing that "checkered history" has been more difficult for some than others.
Only a few people who responded to the Times-Union's call for memories of those demonstrations recounted being on the segregationist side of the fight. None would agree to be interviewed or even give their names.
Perhaps the measure of shifting attitudes lies in the invisibility of those who swung ax handles that day, Crooks said. Or perhaps, as Yates believes, it's a tip of the scales toward a generation that knows only the Desert Rider, and not the Woolworth's.
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COMING THIS WEEK
In the week ahead, the Times-Union and Jacksonville.com will publish oral history stories and videos of people who were there for Ax Handle Saturday.
Monday: Clarence Sears, a white man who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan at the behest of the FBI, only to learn his efforts to protect the demonstrators were ignored by law enforcement.
Tuesday: Patricia Henry and her mother, Syteria Williams, who still remember vividly the day they stepped off the bus - and into the melee that would change their lives.
Wednesday: Isaac Carnes, a demonstrator who ultimately left Jacksonville, returning decades later and coming face-to-face with what has and has not changed.
Thursday: Rodney Hurst, a leader of the NAACP Youth Council who persisted through nearly eight months of demonstrations and negotiations.
Friday: Alton Yates, whose Air Force service inspired him to fight to give the equality he experienced in the military to everyone else.
Ax Handle Saturday: The day we let you down
By Mark Woods
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Latest by MarkNFL12345 1 year 1 day ago
Details of what had happened in downtown Jacksonville made the network newscasts.
A photo of a black teenager, his shirt spattered with blood after he was beaten, appeared in Life magazine.
Readers of newspapers in Chicago, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami and New York quickly learned about the event that became known as Ax Handle Saturday.
Or at least they learned more than readers of The Florida Times-Union.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of an ignoble day not only in the history of this city but in the history of this newspaper.
I’ve often heard stories about how the Times-Union covered the events of that summer. Or didn’t cover them.
I’ve heard that when black teenagers began sitting at whites-only lunch counters, the paper’s reporters were told not to cover the peaceful protests. And I’ve heard that when violence broke out just a few blocks from the Times-Union’s old building, photographers were told if they went to the scene they would lose their job.
“That’s true,” said Foster Marshall, a photographer who retired in 1994 after 40 years at the paper. “We were told by the executive editor not to cover it.”
The reasons they were given, he recalls, were safety and fear of losing equipment. Not that those in the newsroom necessarily bought the reasons. In the weeks leading up to Ax Handle Saturday, the paper’s approach to covering the sit-ins basically was ignore, ignore, ignore.
“It was national news, and all of us who were true journalists were really embarrassed,” said Bob McGinty, a copy editor and city editor. “We felt dirty as journalists because we couldn’t do our jobs.”
Out of curiosity, I went back and looked at the microfilm from the days leading up to Ax Handle Saturday.
There was coverage of the “Reds” winning the race into space.
There was a full-page ad for a pro football exhibition between the Washington Redskins and Chicago Bears. “The publicity Jacksonville derives from the nation-wide televising of this game is invaluable ...” it said, imploring people to buy the tickets ($4 and $2).
There was a four-paragraph story, buried beneath the TV listings, saying that a federal judge in Birmingham, Ala., had ruled that the expulsion of six black students by Alabama State College was “justified and, in fact, necessary.”
There was almost no coverage of what was happening in downtown Jacksonville. Other than business as usual.
On the morning of Aug. 27, 1960, the local section of the T-U was topped by a photo of five smiling young women holding a sash. “Mrs. Downtowner finalists selected,” said the caption, explaining that each of the entrants appeared in bathing suits and gave a two-minute talk on “Why I like to Shop Downtown.”
When violence erupted downtown, Marshall recalls the reporters and photographers in the newsroom were itching to document what was happening. And although they were told not to, he recalls that a couple of his photographers went for lunch and just happened to end up at Woolworth’s. With their personal cameras.
Not that any photo appeared in the paper the next day. Or the next few decades.
The Jacksonville Journal, the evening paper, ran a front-page story with a banner headline the same day about the violence downtown. And although 50 years later you can certainly question the slant of the picture the Journal painted, at least it painted one.
The day after Ax Handle Saturday, the Times-Union ran a story in a corner of the local section, with a headline that said, “Tight Security Lid is Clamped on City After Racial Strife.” McGinty says this and other stories, which clearly placed the blame for that strife on the black teenagers, were intentionally “buried” in the paper. The executive editor mandated it, he said. And although McGinty remains proud of his time at the Times-Union, he says he and others from that era have long been embarrassed by that day’s paper.
“It was the most cowardly coverage I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.
And if he was frustrated, imagine the emotions a few floors below the paper’s main newsroom. This is where a small group of journalists put out the “black star” edition of the paper. Its masthead said, “News For and About the Colored People.” Not that any details of the sit-ins or Ax Handle Saturday made it into the “news for and about the colored people.”
“Nothing,” recalled Gertrude Peele this week. “We wanted to write about it. ... Even though colored people were involved, they [the paper’s management] didn’t feel it was newsworthy.”
There was one local paper which covered it quite thoroughly: The Florida Star.
Eric Simpson, the editor and publisher of the black newspaper, was inducted into the Florida Press Club Hall of Fame in 2003. Got a posthumous standing ovation at the ceremony. But in the 1960s, his coverage drew a different reaction.
He and his newspaper got frequent bomb threats.
One of his daughters, Phyllis Simpson, recalls her father and mother never would travel together, for fear their children would lose both parents.
She also recalls her dad loved his job, gathering the information, covering a story. And while you might think he would dwell on the ones he covered in the summer of 1960, his daughter says the opposite was true.
“He was a typical newsman,” she said. “He always was on to the next story.”
Friday, August 26, 2011
Published: January 22, 2006
Stetson Kennedy, in all the delightful years I've known him, has always questioned authority --whether it be the alderman or the president. He has always asked the question ''Why?'' Whether it be waging a war based on an outrageous lie or any behavior he considers undemocratic, he has always asked the provocative question. In short, he could well be described as a ''troublemaker'' in the best sense of the word. With half a dozen Stetson Kennedys, we can transform our society into one of truth, grace and beauty.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Peggy Bulger of Library of Congress on Lashon hora by Dubner & Levitt in January 8, 2006 New York Times Magazine
Published: January 22, 2006
Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt are holding Stetson Kennedy responsible for the inadequacies of their own research (Freakonomics, Jan. 8). 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?
Peggy A. Bulger
Takoma Park, Md.
Floundering, Wannabee 450th Contractor Grifters Want City to "Sell its Wares" To Fortune 500 Companies, Developers
flounderingpresent participle of floun·der (Verb)
Yesterday afternoon, the DALTON AGENCY, a national advertising and public relations agency and INFNITY GLOBAL SOLUTIONS, a lobbying firm, pitched their services to St. Augustine City Commissioners at their regular workshop on our City’s 450th anniversary celebration.
The pitch was not a success.
Using ever dull business cliché known to man, the assembled pitch-people floundered.
They bragged about their ability to get corporations to pony up money for “sponsorships,” giving such corporations whatever they want.
They bragged that they had developed a secretive, Sunshine and Open Records law-breaking Foundation for the 2005 Superbowl in Jacksonville. First, the Superbowl lost money. Second, the mention of the Foundation associated with the Superbowl was a non-starter, as Mayor Boles noted, because our City started a similar secretive foundation (First America Foundation), which failed. Mayor Boles asked, “Did anyone explain to you” that failure?” “That did not work well.”
Basic research would have told the pitchmen that FAF was a disaster. These pitchmen did not do their homework.
The DALTON AGENCY AND IGS pitchmen noted their work on “nine Superbowls,” attempting to draw a parallel between a one-day event (or “one-week” event as they corrected our Commissioners) with several years of commemoration of historical events, from 1513-1964.
The pitchmen were talking so fast I had to ask them to slow down when they got started. They were talking so quickly a court reporter could not have kept up with them.
Meanwhile, their slogans were among the sort of dross that substitutes for thought in multinational corporations.
Apparently not appreciating that the City of St. Augustine is a government, they promised to promote “your business.”
They promised “economic development” -- working to recruit corporations to build businesses here – apparently meaning developers – to move to St. Augustine.
Looking at DALTON AGENCY’s website, the number of potential organizational conflicts of interests boggles the mind. St. Augustine does not need the DALTON AGENCY, any more than a moose needs a hatrack.
We don’t need any more conmen promoting poorly planned residential housing, of the sort that the DALTON AGENCY’s clients like to foist on unsuspecting communities.
We don’t need any more no-bid contracts with grifters. We don't need advertising, branding and economic development by people who don't respect our history and nature, and who think the 450th is just another Superbowl, or "Stuporbowl."
Breach of fiduciary duty? Claiming to be a member of the Board of the “Stetson Kennedy Foundation” and “a Rotarian,” Dylan Rumrell (son of lawyer Richard G. Rumrell) introduced the group of Jacksonville business people, DALTON AGENCY AND INTERNATIONAL GLOBAL SOLUTIONS, of which he is putative team leader. It is a breach of Rumrell’s duty to the Stetson Kennedy Foundation for Dylan Rumrell to trade on Stetson Kennedy’s name, and that of his Foundation.