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Record Group Number: 000158
Series/Collection Number: .S 1585
Creator: Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs. Florida Folklife Archive
Title, Dates: Stetson Kennedy Florida folklife collection, 1935-1991.
Amount: 7.25 cubic ft.
Medium Included:
Organization/Arrangement: By record type.
Terms Governing Use: To preserve the originals, patrons will use the photocopies of the WPA subject files (boxes 1-2 in lieu of boxes 3-5).
Biographical/Historical:     Legislation in 1979 (79-322, SB 1208) transferred the Florida Folk Arts component of the Stephen Foster Memorial to the Florida Department of State. Operating as the Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs from ca. 1985 until 1995, the Bureau coordinated the annual Florida Folk Festival and directed such programs as Folk Arts Apprenticeships, Folk Arts in Education, Folk Heritage awards, annual research surveys and numerous other projects and programs. From 1995 through June 30, 2021, the renamed and reorganized Florida Folklife Program continued the majority of these operations from within the Division of Historical Resources, Bureau of Historic Preservation in Tallahassee. During the 1995 reorganization, the State Archives of Florida acquired the Florida Folklife Collection from the Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs’ previously maintained Florida Folklife Archives. Legislation in 2021 (2021-71, L. O. F., HB 909) transferred the Florida Folklife Program and its operations from the Division of Historical Resources to the newly renamed Division of Arts and Culture, previously the Division of Cultural Resources, effective July 1, 2021. The program is charged to "identify, research, interpret, and present Florida folk arts, artists, performers, folklore, traditions, customs, and cultural heritage and make folk cultural resources and folklife projects available throughout the state."

    Born in Jacksonville on October 5, 1916, Stetson Kennedy (1916-2011) was a renowned folklorist, writer and activist. He served as the head of the Florida Writers' Project unit on folklore, oral history, and social-ethnic studies for the Works Progress Administration from 1937 through 1942. He carried a sound recorder with him around the state to capture the songs, tales, and anecdotes of Floridians. In 1950, he ran unsuccessfully as an independent candidate for the United States Senate from Florida on the platform of "Total Equality". Kennedy was a founding member of the Florida Folklore Society in 1982 and served as the society's president in 1989. Stetson Kennedy passed away near Jacksonville, Florida, on August 27, 2011.

    The Federal Writers' Project, under the Works Progress Administration, was a federal government project designed to create jobs for unemployed writers during the Great Depression. Established on July 27, 1935, one goal of the project was the creation of the "American Guide Series", a series of published guidebooks on each state. Federal Writers' Project offices were established in every state, excluding Hawaii, and federal guidelines required that ninety percent of the staff be from the ranks of the unemployed.

    From the beginning of the project, the collection of folk customs and lore was an integral aspect of the "American Guide Series." Fieldworkers traveled across the state to gather firsthand information and materials for the guide. They conducted interviews and observed the local communities, architecture, flora, fauna and more. The first edition of the Works Progress Administration's Florida Guide was published in 1939. In 1943, when Congress closed the Federal Writers' Project, only a caretaker crew remained in the Florida office.

Summary:     This series consists of originals and copies of materials related to Florida folklife created and/or maintained by Stetson Kennedy. The series includes WPA subject files, WPA school readers, manuscripts, and general subject files. Included are both copies and originals of the WPA subject files obtained by Stetson Kennedy when the Federal Writers' Project folded in 1943. These files include interview transcripts and other field notes of WPA writers. It appears that Stetson Kennedy added related materials, such as newspaper clippings and additional research, to the files over the years. The files document the folk tales, songs, and art of many different ethnic and cultural groups found in Florida (Greek, African American, Bahaman, Latin American, Minorcan, Cracker).

    The WPA school readers are articles prepared by Stetson Kennedy and others on the Federal Writer's Project staff in conjunction with the State Department of Education for use in schools.  Subject matter includes Florida history, ecology, ethnic groups, and other topics of Floridiana.

    This series also includes several manuscripts prepared by Stetson Kennedy and/or WPA writers (including Zora Neale Hurston) on various Florida-related topics. Some, such as the St. Augustine Guide and "Palmetto Country," were published; others, such as "Good Neighbors Across the Tracks" (about the Latin population of Key West and Tampa), and "History of the Negro in Florida," never were.

    The general subject files contained in this series are similar in nature to the WPA subject files.  That is, they cover a wide variety of Florida folklife topics and ethnic groups. They consist of newspaper clippings, articles, bibliographies, research notes, photographs, etcetera.

Finding Aids: In addition to the folder listing in the online catalog, the Archives has a separate Reference Guide to the WPA subject files in Boxes 1-5 prepared by the Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs, consisting of an itemized list of the contents of each folder and several indexes, including by song title, informant, location, and subject.
Additional Physical Form: Photocopies available of the WPA subject files (boxes 1-2).
Reproduction Note:
Location of Originals/Duplicates:
Associated Materials: For related materials, see also series S1583, WPA Federal Writers' Project Florida Folklore Files, S1584, Stetson Kennedy Donation Records, and M87- 48, Stetson Kennedy's North Florida photographs. Additional Stetson Kennedy collections are located at the University of Florida, George Smathers Libraries, Special Collections; Georgia State University, Southern Labor Archives; New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, Southern Historical Collection.
Language Notes:
Ownership/Custodial History: The WPA files were among those left behind in the Florida Office with the closing of the Federal Writers' Project in 1943.  Stetson Kennedy saved these files from destruction, storing them for over forty years.  In 1988, he donated this entire collection to the Florida Folklife Archive at White Springs.  The collection was transferred to the State Archives in 1995.
Publication Note: Information contained in these records has been used in several publications:
The American Slave : A Composite Autobiography, Vol. 17, Florida Narratives / ed., with an introduction, by George P. Rawick. Westport, Connecticut : Greenwood Publishing Company, 1941.
Florida : A Guide to the Southernmost State / Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers' Project of the Work Projects Administration.  New York : Oxford University Press, 1939.
The Florida Negro : A Federal Writers' Project Legacy / edited by Gary W. McDonogh.  Jackson, Miss. : University Press of Mississippi, 1993.
Palmetto Country / Stetson Kennedy.  New York : Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1942.
General Note:
Electronic Records Access:
Subject Access Fields: Kennedy, Stetson
Hurston, Zora Neale
Federal Writers' Project (Fla.)
Folklore Florida
Ethnic folklore Florida
Folk songs Florida
African Americans Florida.
African Americans Folklore. Florida
Seminole Indians.
Ethnic groups Florida
Oral biography.
Hispanic Americans Florida
Latin Americans United States --Florida
Oral histories. aat
Manuscripts. aat
Florida Social life and customs
Florida Description and travel
Added Entries Kennedy, Stetson
Hurston, Zora Neale
Federal Writers' Project (Fla.)
Florida. Dept. of Education.