Collection Description

Record Group: 000158 — Call Number: S 1585


Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs. Florida Folklife Archive

Title / Date:

Stetson Kennedy Florida folklife collection, 1935-1991




7.25 cubic ft.


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).

Biological / Historical Note:

Legislation of 1979 (79-322, SB 1208) transferred to the Department of State the Florida Folk Arts component of the Stephen Foster Memorial and authorized appointment of a Folk Life Director to oversee the program.  The Florida Folk Life Program was charged to "identify, research, and develop Florida folk artists, performers, folklore, traditions, customs, and cultural heritage and make folk art resources, festivals, and folk life projects available throughout the state."

Known as the Bureau of Florida Folklife Programs from ca. 1985 until a 1995 reorganization, the bureau operated under the Division of Historical Resources, coordinating the annual Florida Folk Festival and directing such programs as Folk Arts Apprenticeships, Folk Arts in Education, Folk Heritage awards, and numerous research and collecting projects and programs.  Part of the bureau was the Florida Folklife Archive, originally established in 1976 and maintained by the bureau as a depository for field notes and research findings of the folklife program and for the folklife collections of other researchers.

Since 1995, the Florida Folklife Program has operated within the Bureau of Historic Preservation, Division of Historical Resources in Tallahassee and continues most of the same programs as the Bureau.

Stetson Kennedy spent most of his life studying the people of Florida, their lives, and their environment.  He was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on October 5, 1916.  Between 1937 and 1942 he headed the Florida Writers' Project unit on folklore, oral history, and social-ethnic studies.  He traveled throughout the state to capture the traditions, songs, tales, and anecdotes of the people of Florida.  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 and its president in 1989.  He has written and published many books on Florida and Southern culture, including Palmetto Country and Jim Crow Guide.  He has received many awards such as the Negro Freedom Rally People's Award in 1947, the Florida Folk Heritage Award in 1988, and the Cavallo Foundation Award for civic courage in 1991.  He lives in Jacksonville.

The Federal Writers' Project, under the Works Progress Administration, was inaugurated September 28, 1935.  One goal of the project was the publication of the "American Guide Series" of guidebooks on each state.  FWP offices were established in the states with the requirement that 90% of the staff were to 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 to communities to gather materials for the guide, researching in libraries, interviewing people, observing people, architecture, flora, fauna, etc., and taking notes.  The first edition of the WPA Florida guide was published in 1939, and in 1943 when Congress closed the FWP, only a caretaker crew remained in the Florida office.

Summary Scope Note:

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.

The series includes 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, etc.

For related materials, see also series S1583, WPA Federal Writers' Project Florida Folklore Files, and S1584, Stetson Kennedy Donation Records.

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).

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.

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
  • Folklife.
  • 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.