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Stetson Kennedy papers

Identifier: L1979-37

Scope and Content of the Papers

The Papers, 1933-1981, of Stetson Kennedy comprise correspondence; subject files on various organizations, individuals, and ideas; typescripts of articles written by Kennedy; newsclippings; press releases; bulletins and fliers; pamphlets; periodicals; and photographs. The subject files pertain to economic conditions, labor and anti-black violence, peace groups, peonage, Southern politicians, Mexico, the Spanish Civil War, and Kennedy's own campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Florida in 1950. Articles, clippings, and pamphlets concern civil rights, international affairs, the Ku Klux Klan, labor (particularly CIO) organizing, and southern politics. The photographs depict WPA work in progress, attacks against Negroes (including lynching), and various organizations. The many periodicals include two issues (1947) of Eugene Talmadge's The Statesman, twenty-one issues (1943-1950) of The Southern Patriot, and eight issues (1939-1943) of Lillian Smith's North Georgia Review. The correspondence covers the period 1935-1979, and includes as correspondents students and peace groups, several committees to aid Spanish loyalists, social reform and civil liberties groups, government agencies, writer's organizations, publishers, literary agents, newspapers and magazines, and the New York Public Library, which obtained some Kennedy manuscripts for its Schomburg Collection in 1952. [L1979-37]

New accessions added to the Papers of Stetson Kennedy over the years have expanded the materials to include: the typescript for the unpublished manuscript The Four Freedoms Down South by Stetson Kennedy [L1983-10]; a videocassette tape of an interview with Kennedy on "Tony Brown's Journal" [L1985-04]; additional correspondence, press releases, newsclippings, articles, information on Kennedy's campaign in Florida for a US Senate seat, typescript by George Johnston concerning his 1947 labor organizing efforts, photographs relating to Johnston's labor organizing work, typescript by James A. Schnur on the conditions of African Americans in Florida during World War II, audiotapes of an oral history interview of Kennedy conducted by Ralph Peters in 1983 [L1987-38 and L1996-11]; the unpublished dissertation Stetson Kennedy: Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy by Peggy Bulger [1992-15]; the videocassette of Stetson Kennedy's honorary doctorate presentation from the University of North Florida on August 5, 1994 and Joyce Kennedy's birthday tribute in 1994 [L1995-10].


  • Creation: 1933-1981


Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research use. The Stetson Kennedy Papers are available to researchers in GSU's Digital Collections. Access to originals is restricted; consult Southern Labor Archivist.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Georgia State University is the owner of the physical collection and makes reproductions available for research, subject to the copyright law of the United States and item condition. Georgia State University may or may not own the rights to materials in the collection. It is the researcher's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and obtain permission from the copyright holder before publication, reproduction, or display of the materials beyond what is reasonable under copyright law. Researchers may quote selections from the collection under the fair use provision of copyright law.

Oversized materials stored off-site. Allow at least 2 working days for retrieval.

Biography of Stetson Kennedy

Stetson Kennedy was born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1916. He attended the University of Florida, the New School for Social Research, and the University of Paris.

Kennedy's career as an author began in the 1930s when he worked as both a writer and an editor on the Federal Writers Project guide to Florida. The affiliation made there led to an invitation to write the Florida volume in the American Folkways series, edited by Erskine Caldwell. This volume, Palmetto Country (1942), established Kennedy's reputation as an authority on the traditions and culture of his home state.

His next book, Southern Exposure (1946), was an expose of the social and political inequities of the South in the mid-20th century. Later, he continued his crusade with I Rode With the Ku Klux Klan (1954) and Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A. (1959). (Kennedy had infiltrated the Klan as an agent of the state of Georgia.)

As an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate from Florida in 1950, Kennedy ran on a "Total Equality" ticket, and finished last. From 1952 through 1960, Kennedy lived and traveled in Europe, Asia, and Africa. His interest in communism led him behind the Iron Curtain, where he lived and worked for three years, primarily in Hungary. He emerged, disenchanted, as a refugee in 1956.

Upon his return to the United States, Kennedy remained active in the civil rights and peace movements as a writer and lecturer. At various times he has contributed articles to the New York Times, the New York Post, Saturday Review, Nation, New Republic, and other periodicals in the U.S. and abroad. The author of the column "Inside Out" syndicated by the Federated Press from 1937 to 1950, Kennedy also wrote a column "Up Front Down South," for the Pittsburgh Courier in the 1960s.

Kennedy joined the federal anti-poverty program in Miami in 1965, and later became the assistant director.

Description of the Stetson Kennedy Papers

Anyone interested in primary source material on the pioneering struggles to introduce unionization, civil rights, and socio-economic-political progress to the South during the Great Depression, WW II, and the decade which followed will find this extensive collection highly rewarding.

Born in 1916 in Jacksonville, Florida, Stetson Kennedy was engaged in those struggles--fulltime and overtime--as writer, activist, and undercover agent. He also served as self-appointed archivist, taking it upon himself to collect and preserve, over a half century, documents reflecting the contest between progress and reaction in the South.

Kennedy's own prescription for progress called for working people to arm themselves with a ballot in one hand, and a union card in the other. His Papers reflect such labor-related experiences as organizing the unemployed into the Workers Alliance during the Depression, serving as southeastern editorial director of the CIO's PAC during "Operation Dixie," authoring a column "Inside Out" that was widely syndicated by labor papers, testimony as an expert witness before the Senate Labor Committee on union-busting by the KKK and on peonage in the U.S. before the U.N. Committee on Forced Labor in Geneva, as well as membership in the American Newspaper Guild.

Since racism long served as a major means of keeping Southern labor unorganized and cheap, and social justice and political democracy in the region at a low ebb, much of Kennedy's lifework has been focused upon segregation and discrimination, and this too is reflected in his Papers. In this he worked closely with such organizations as the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, NAACP, Anti-Defamation League, Southern Regional Council, and Highlander Folk School. First on his own initiative, and later as an undercover agent for the Georgia Department of Law under Gov. Ellis Arnall, he joined the KKK and a score of other "home-grown, Southern-style" terrorist groups, and the evidence he gathered was instrumental in curbing their growth and putting some of their leaders behind bars. Much of this evidence is to be found among his Papers, and still other documents, placed earlier with the Schomburg Collection of the N.Y. Public Library, are available on microfilm.

The collection also contains materials related to a variety of national and international causes to which Kennedy was committed as a sponsor and activist. These include an Intercollegiate Peace Council he organized prior to WW II (the first interracial organization of college students in the South), picketing of scrap iron shipments to Japan, and fund-raising for medical aid for the Spanish Republican Army.

Out of Kennedy's investigations and activism have come a number of books, including his Palmetto Country, Southern Exposure, I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan, and Jim Crow Guide to the USA. Raw materials and early drafts of these works are to be found in his Papers, as are his "Up Front Down South" columns for the black press, and investigative reportage for the newspaper PM, The New Republic, The Nation, and other journals. Included too is a documentary record of his 1950 campaign as an independent write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate from Florida, on a platform of "total equality" (he was arrested at the polls). Also of special interest is correspondence from one of Kennedy's close friends, that "bard of the working man," Woody Guthrie.

These Papers consist of a wide variety of materials, including manuscripts, notes, inside reports of terrorist meetings, flyers, posters, brochures, correspondence, hate sheets, photographs, news clippings, and scrapbooks.

In range of subject matter they constitute a veritable encyclopaedia of the problems which beset the South during that transitional epoch.

On the labor front, there were regional and racial wage differentials to contend with, discriminatory freight rates which kept industry out, company towns, the KKK telling the CIO "we will fight horror with horror," and progress being measured in terms of "At first they used to kill you for trying to organize a union; now they just knock all your teeth out."

At the outset, the bastions of white supremacy were virtually unchallenged. No black could vote in a Democratic primary in the South, and very few dared vote at all. There was not one black fireman or policeman below the Mason-Dixon Line, much less any black office-holders. Blacks seldom sat on juries, even Federal ones. Jim Crow reigned over all, including interracial etiquette.

In the countryside, poor whites as well as blacks were caught in the toils of illiteracy, peonage, the commissary, sharecropping, tenant farming, and the cashcrop ("let `em eat cotton") system. Rural homes generally lacked screens, lights, running water, and pellagra, hookworm, dengue and malaria we-re rampant.

Lynchings and massacres took place periodically; the penal system was characterized by the chaingang, sweatbox, and convict lease system; and the polltax and black disfranchisement enabled Southern bourbons to dominate both houses of Congress and pollute the Congressional Record with their racist perorations.

The Stetson Kennedy Papers chronicle the early struggles to change all that, and serve to point up what has and has not yet been accomplished.


7 Linear Feet (in 17 boxes)

Language of Materials



Kennedy's career as an author began in the 1930s when he worked as both a writer and an editor on the Federal Writers Project guide to Florida. The Papers, 1933-1981, of Stetson Kennedy comprise correspondence; subject files on various organizations, individuals, and ideas; typescripts of articles written by Kennedy; newsclippings; press releases; bulletins and fliers; pamphlets; periodicals; and photographs. Anyone interested in primary source material on the pioneering struggles to introduce unionization, civil rights, and socio-economic-political progress to the South during the Great Depression, WW II, and the decade which followed will find this extensive collection highly rewarding.

Organization of the Papers

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1935-1979
  • Series II: Subject Files, 1917-1981
  • Series III: Articles, 1939-1966
  • Series IV: Clippings, 1933-1978
  • Series V: Bulletins, 1938-1951
  • Series VI: Press Release, 1936-1966
  • Series VII: Literary Production, 1935-1946
  • Series VIII: Miscellaneous, 1935-1979
  • Series IX: Pamphlets, 1936-1972

Acquisition Information

Purchased from Stetson Kennedy, 1979. Smaller accessions arrived and were added to the collection in 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1995, and 1996.

Online Availability

The photographs and manuscripts in this collection have been digitized and are available online at Georgia State University Library Digital Collections.

Related Archival Materials

Related Archival Materials in Other Repositories

  1. Stetson Kennedy Papers, University of South Florida--Tampa Library, Special Collections
  2. American Student Union, University of Florida Chapter Correspondence, University of Florida Smathers Libraries--Special and Area Studies Collections
  3. Stetson Kennedy Collection, New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for the Study of Black Culture

Related materials in this repository

  1. Georgia Government Documentation Project: Oral History Interviews (Stetson Kennedy, Virginia Durr, Daniel Duke)
  2. Microfilm copy of the Stetson Kennedy Collection at Shomburg Center available
  3. Access copies of published works by Stetson Kennedy held in the general collection through the University Library's online catalogue.
  4. Stetson Kennedy documentary film project records. Consult the Labor Archivist

Separated Materials

During processing, artifacts, oversize and printed material was separated to the Southern Labor Archives Periodical, Photograph, and Oversize Collections. Oral history tapes were separated to the Southern Labor Archives Sound Recording Collection. Video recordings were separated to the Southern Labor Archives Video Recording Collection. See List of Separated Material following Detailed Description of the Collection.

Separated Southern Labor Archives Audiovisual Collection

  1. Interview with Stetson Kennedy by Ralph Peters, March 26, 1983 [L1987-38], 4 cassette tapes
  2. Interview of Stetson Kennedy on "Tony Brown's Journal", undated [L1985-04] A digital master copy has been created for this video recording.
  3. Stetson Kennedy: Honorary Doctorate, UNF, August 5, 1994; Joyce K, Birthday Tribute, 1994 [L1995-10] A VHS master copy has been created for this video recording.

Separated to Southern Labor Archives Photographs Collection

  1. 206 photographs, 1936-1970's, undated [L1979-37]: 1-13: Civil rights; 14-27: Organizations; 28-76: Racial discrimination; 77-176: Works Project Administration; 177-206: Miscellaneous
  2. 42 photographs, 1946-1947 [L1987-38]: 1-42: Operation Dixie; One cloth press pass to "The Binding Cross" (12" x 10"), 1947

Separated to Southern Labor Archives Periodicals Collection

  1. Facts, 1958-1959, 1965
  2. Ammunition, September 1944
  3. Chapter Bulletin, 1951
  4. Concern, October 1959
  5. Equal Justice, 1940
  6. Economic Outlook, 1944-1952
  7. Fact, 1946
  8. Guild Rank and File, October 1948
  9. The Highlander Fling, November 1945
  10. In Fact, 1943-1948
  11. March Of Labor, September 1949
  12. Fair Measure, September 1978
  13. Liberator, March 1949
  14. Labor's Non-Partisan League National Bulletin, November 1938
  15. New Masses, 1940, 1945
  16. New South, 1946-1948
  17. North Georgia Review, 1939-1941
  18. Political Action News, May 1944
  19. The South And World Affairs, April 1944
  20. Southeastern Newsletter, 1944
  21. The Southern Frontier Council, 1944-1945
  22. South Today (formerly North Georgia Review), 1942-1943
  23. Trends and Tides, January-April 1948
  24. Wire Service News, August 1944
  25. CIO War Relief News, September 1944
  26. FACT!, Winter 1946
  27. CIO News, 1945
  28. Freedom, November 1950
  29. Guardian, September 1975
  30. Political Action News, May 1944
  31. The South And World Affairs, April 1944
  32. Southeastern Newsletter, 1944
  33. The Southern Frontier Council, 1944-1945
  34. The Southern Patriot, 1943-1950
  35. The Guild Reporter, September 1951
  36. National Guardian, 1948-1951, 1960
  37. National Union Farmer, December 1944
  38. Political Action News, 1944
  39. The Poll Tax Repealer, 1944-1945
  40. The Progressive Citizen, January 1948
  41. Steel Labor, November 1944
  42. The Worker, 1948-1952
  43. The Statesman, 1947


Stetson Kennedy:
A Guide to His Papers at Georgia State University Library
Georgia State University Library
June 2001
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

100 Decatur St., S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
404-413-2881 (Fax)