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UF Marks the Donation of the Stetson Kennedy Papers with Panel and Events, Oct. 22

Gainesville, FL—The papers and writings of Stetson Kennedy, firebrand activist, writer, and folklorist of the American South,  have been donated to the University of Florida by the Stetson Kennedy Trust and will be celebrated in a panel event on October 22.  In this major acquisition, Kennedy’s papers will join those of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston as part of the literary manuscripts of Special Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries.

The University of Florida will commemorate the opening of the Stetson Kennedy Papers on October 22 with a celebratory symposium, “Stetson Kennedy: Re-Imagining Justice in the 21st Century.”  Featured speakers include acclaimed author and FIU professor Marvin Dunn, former director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress Peggy Bulger, and Lucy Anne Hurston, author and niece of literary luminary Zora Neale Hurston.

Schedule of Events, October 22


Open House, Room 1A, George A. Smathers Library East, First Floor
10:00 a.m. to Noon:

See examples from the Papers

  • Early Writings of Stetson Kennedy
  • Stetson, Civil Rights, and Social Justice
  • Stetson and Folk Life
  • Stetson Reports from Abroad
  • Interviews on Film

Reception, Room 1A, George A. Smathers Library East
12:00 p.m.



Film Tribute to the Federal Writers Program, Room 1A, George A. Smathers Library East
2:00 p.m., “
Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story”

Main Panel Event, Pugh Hall Auditorium with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., “Stetson Kennedy: Re-Imagining Justice in the 21st Century.”

  • Blues music by Willie Green.
  • Opening comments from UF First Lady Chris Machen.
  • Panel discussion moderated by Ben Brotemarkle with Marvin Dunn, Peggy Bulger, and Lucy Anne Hurston.
  • Reception and book signings. 


Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011) epitomized the energy and drive of American social activism.  As Dr. Paul Ortíz, director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, has noted, “Kennedy spent the better part of the 20th century doing battle with racism, class oppression, corporate domination, and environmental degradation in the American South.”   He pitted himself against the Ku Klux Klan, going undercover in order to investigate their activities, then broadcasting some of his findings through 1947 episodes of the radio series Adventures of Superman (“Clan of the Fiery Cross”) in which the iconic American superhero battles the KKK.   Kennedy had to flee the country to escape retribution, living for a year in Paris.

His writings and constant advocacy for social justice brought him into contact with Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Richard Wright, Lillian Smith, Woody and Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Studs Terkel, Zora Neale Hurston, Myles Horton, Virginia Durr, Alan Lomax, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Erskine Caldwell (who edited his first book) and Florida freedom fighters and martyrs Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore.  Many of his books have become classics, including Palmetto Country (1942), Southern Exposure (1946), The Klan Unmasked (1954), and the Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A. (1959).

Among the 35+ honors and awards Kennedy received during his life were the Jules Verne Medal (1992), the Peace and Utility Award (co-recipient with Jimmy Carter and Katherine Dunham, 1993), an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the University of North Florida (1994), the Dr. Benjamin Spock Peacemaker of the Year Award (2001), the Literary Legend Award from the Florida Heritage Book Festival (2008), and the Dorothy Dodd Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Historical Society (2010).  He was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 2005.

The Stetson Kennedy Papers at the University of Florida encompass core areas of his career, spanning his high school writings to his most recent and unpublished work,  and include correspondence, a mass of published articles, photographs, research files, and several hundred audio and audio-video files of interviews with him, interviews by him, and recordings of his public talks.   Other institutions in the United States with collections of Kennedy’s work include the Department of Special Collections at the University of South Florida, Georgia State University, the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the University of North Carolina.  His personal library was donated to the Civic Media Center, Gainesville, Florida.

A full day of special events has been planned for October 22.   In the morning, beginning at 10 a.m., there will be an open house in Room 1A, George A. Smathers Library, with an exhibit of materials from the Stetson Kennedy Papers.  This will be followed at noon with a reception and commentary on the writing careers of Stetson Kennedy and Zora Neale Hurston by Sandra Parks and Lucy Anne Hurston.  At 2:00 p.m. also in Room 1A there will be a showing of the film “Soul Of A People—Writing America’s Story” about the 1930s Federal Writers Project.

The day’s main event will be the panel presentation “Stetson Kennedy: Re-Imagining Justice in the 21st Century,” at 6 p.m. in Pugh Hall with opening comments from UF First Lady Chris Machen. The panel, which will also be live broadcast over the internet, will be moderated by Ben Brotemarkle, executive director of the Florida Historical Society. Comments and discussion by Marvin Dunn, Peggy Bulger, and Lucy Anne Hurston will focus on the legacy of Stetson Kennedy’s prolific activism and powerful works. Famed local blues musician Willie Green will also perform at the event. Following the panel, a reception and book signing will be held in Pugh with the panelists, whose books will be on sale alongside a limited number of Stetson Kennedy’s autographed works.

Sponsors for the event include the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History at the Smathers Libraries, Civic Media Center and the UF Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere Rothman Endowment.  For information on upcoming events, contact Sarah Blanc, research staff member at the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program  or James Cusick, curator, P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History .  For more information on Stetson Kennedy, please visit the Stetson Kennedy Foundation.

Press Release, “University of Florida Marks the Donation of the Stetson Kennedy Papers with Speakers Panel and Events”