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]