Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Stetson Kennedy, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0354. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Infiltrating the KKK and other groups

In this excerpt, Kennedy recalls infiltrating violent racist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, places which created what he calls "an unclean environment." He was concerned he would be discovered.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Stetson Kennedy, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0354. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

In terms of things like infiltrating the Klan . . . I must have gotten into twenty such terrorist violent groups, American Gentile Army, and the Columbians and Confederate Underground, all those things. The decision there was hinged to the war thing which I had a back which wouldn't let me get in the service. I figured that all my classmates were going overseas to fight fascism and I was just. . . . [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
JOHN EGERTON:
You made those decisions on your own?
STETSON KENNEDY:
Yes, I made these decisions and first steps in joining and for years was entirely on my own. In other words, the infiltration was free lance like the writing. And only from time to time did people like Drew Pearson, predecessor to Jack Anderson. . . . I would telephone to him the minute of the Klan's last meeting and he would broadcast them each Sunday, nationwide on the radio, names of politicians and businessmen attending and everything the Klan had done or getting ready to do and password. He would on occasion send me $10.00. I remember the Grand Dragon was saying, "I might as well call in and talk to Pearson myself and collect the money myself. I know that he will have the whole minutes as soon as we adjourn."
JOHN EGERTON:
But he didn't know who it was?
STETSON KENNEDY:
No, but of course, I think Freedom House gave Pearson an award and all I got was the $10.00. I don't begrudge him the award at all, I think he earned it. He came down and broadcast on the State Capitol steps against the Klan.
JOHN EGERTON:
You must have been a pretty convincing racists. I mean how do you survive . . .
STETSON KENNEDY:
I used to look in the mirror and say, "Do I really look like one of those fellows?" I could I guess. I was under suspicion because of my looks. I would try to talk rougher than they did. You'd get a question like, how blood thirsty are you in terms of recruiting for the hit squad? You'd have to answer something like, blood thirsty as hell. I was very happy to get out of it. It's an unclean environment.
JOHN EGERTON:
Did you subsequently do investigations for other organizations?
STETSON KENNEDY:
This might be interesting. Albert Deutsch was a columnist for the PM newspaper. He came to Atlanta and we had lunch often. I told him to be careful . . . you know, I was inside the Columbians at that time and they were throwing dynamite all over . . . because I could really get massed up. He goes back and writes this thing about having lunch with one of the finest people, member of the Columbians, face of a poet or some such language as that and all the Columbians said, Perkins, meaning me. They immediately said that the only one with a poet's face in their ranks was Perkins as they thought I was.
JOHN EGERTON:
How did you respond to that sort of high suspicion?
STETSON KENNEDY:
It was all over at that point anyway. We were going into court. I had done what I could do. I was headed for the court room.