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Icon: Stetson Kennedy

The years in which I infiltrated the Klan was in part during WWII. The Klan was afraid to operate under its old name ... so the Klan adopted all kinds of front names, and in Virginia, for example, it called itself the American Service Patrol and in Georgia things like the Sons of Dixie. And here in Florida, the Confederate Underground. And I infiltrated all those things.

Stetson Kennedy
Stetson Kennedy [Photo: Kelly LaDuke]
It was not just black-white relations that bothered me, but poverty and malnutrition. Florida and the whole South was listed on all the maps as a hunger area of the world, and you could see kids bowlegged for life because they hadn't had any calcium in their diet. And as a teenager, I was seeing sights like mothers giving their newborn infant to the family dog to suckle because she didn't have any milk, either breast or bottled or canned. And that's a pretty traumatic experience for a teenager. It's sort of food for thought, you might say.

It's been a hand-to-mouth career, and I don't recommend it when I'm talking to university and high school students. I'm quick to tell them I don't recommend that sort of ... crusading journalism. There's no money in it.

My first wife, I married a girl from Key West, Edith. Edith Ogden. Edith Ogden-Aguilar ... she was always begging me to please write just one best seller. And then go back to world-saving.

I was gratified -- I was speaking to the NAACP branch in Dallas in 1947 and everyone's shaking hands and I felt this hug around my knees and looked down and this little girl, 5 or 6 years old, saying, 'I know what you do. You go spy on mean white folks and then come tell us what they're fixin' to do.' So that's been the sort of reward I've gotten.

The media for the most part is so given to disseminating misinformation. It's very much a tsunami of misinformation. So anyone trying to spotlight truth has their work cut out for them.

There's many things going on in our country and this world I'm sorry I lived to see. But at the same time, there's many things I'm glad I did live to see and one of those is the advance toward the realization of the American ideal of freedom and justice for all and the end of the Jim Crow segregation system.

There have been very many trends, some positive and some not so positive, and I can't help but feel that the negative have been due in a large part to a tendency on the part of some few people to look upon natural resources as anything that can be converted into cash.

I can't help but feel in this year of 2006, that Christian reckoning, the reactionary trends are threatening to overwhelm the progressive ones, and we need to do something about that. Quick.

I remember in the middle of the last century, in the 1950s or so ... America was building a middle class. Everybody below it was clawing its way up trying to get a foothold into the middle-class lifestyle. But in more recent decades, I'm afraid that trend has come to a halt and being reversed so that the white-collar and even blue-collar workers are being precipitated to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder so that it used to be that dark skin meant bottom of the ladder because of discrimination, but already for the future I can see it's not just going to be dark-skinned.

I remember my father saying that no boy that doesn't carry a pocketknife will ever amount to anything.

In the Writers' Project in Florida we had a staff of something like 200 people including a lot of fieldworkers collecting thousands of Florida songs and tales, which were recorded in the 1930s. There are also copies available in the state archive in Tallahassee so that teachers and scholars and folk musicians looking for roots have ready access to them. I don't know whether they know it or not.

In Lee High School
, senior year, we were all ordered to write an essay about what I want to be when I grow up. The title of my essay was "Why I Want to Be a Zoologist." But then I graduated into the Great Depression and looking around at what was going on in the world, decided that our species was by far the greatest troublemaker and in the greatest trouble. So I decided I would continue to be a zoologist, but specializing in my own species.

I'm currently working on my memoirs, which are going to be titled "Dissident at Large."

I used to for a long period in my life say things like if someone gave me an award or recognition and stuff, I'd say, 'It's not what I've done, but what I'm going to do.' But now that I'm going on 90, I suppose I'm going to have to change my tune.

I was fortunate to have as a close, very longtime friend Woody Guthrie, the legendary American folk balladeer. Woody spent a great deal of time here at Beluthahatchee.

On the wall we have a literary landmark plaque out front, the Friends of Library USA commemorating Woody's work, and as soon as I drop dead, they said they'd put up one next to it about my work, so it will be a double dip.

My friend Alan Lomax is a preeminent world folk musicologist. He passed away several years ago in Tarpon Springs. We were told by the driver of the ambulance who took him to the hospital 'after a stroke that Alan's last words were "Marvelous. Marvelous. Marvelous." Alan pretty much summed up my own attitude.