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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Stetson Kennedy, May 11, 1990. Interview A-0354. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Progressive racial outlook alienates white southerner

In this excerpt, Kennedy describes himself as "an alien in the land of my birth," someone who not only opposed the racial caste system but also disliked country music. His beliefs alienated him from his family.

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

JOHN EGERTON:
So you've been kind of a maverick all your life. Did you feel you were a maverick within that family structure?
STETSON KENNEDY:
Well, I'm trying to think of some parallel. It's true that I've always felt like an alien in the land of my birth, so to speak, but this was in cultural terms, as well as racial or political or any of those things. But I just didn't like country music that much, for example. But I don't know what to say as to, when you say that someone is born into a system of apartheid and takes exception to it, there must be a better word than maverick.
JOHN EGERTON:
Yeah. Except that's the way the system was. I mean, that is the reality.
STETSON KENNEDY:
That was the public attitude, there's no question about that. That was the word applied, but, as I say, it's a loaded word. I suppose it's the fate of any one who speaks out against the prevailing injustice.
JOHN EGERTON:
To be branded.
STETSON KENNEDY:
In his own territory. That's the penalty.
JOHN EGERTON:
Have you kept close ties with your brothers and sisters?
STETSON KENNEDY:
There are articles lying on the table in there that both appeared last Sunday, the Tampa Tribune and the St. Petersburg Times, both referring to the fact that like forty years ago at table, one of my sisters said, "I do believe you'd rather be with niggers than with us." I said, "As a matter of fact, I would." And got up. They haven't communicated with me or me with them, really, in forty years. It's a form of internal exile which I was not the only example of that. Judge Waites Waring, of course, in Carolina, who rendered the first decision against the white primary, had to take his entire family out of the South.
JOHN EGERTON:
Came back to be buried and nobody white would go to his funeral.
STETSON KENNEDY:
Is that so, still that way, huh? I suspect my family will not be in attendance at my funeral [laughter] , for what that's worth.
JOHN EGERTON:
What kind of relationship did you keep with your mother and father until they died? I assume they're dead.
STETSON KENNEDY:
Well, the same article I referred to mentioned the fact that when Palmetto Country, my first book, came out, it had just enough about the black condition for my father to say, "Good job, son, the Yankees will believe every word of it, and we southerners will recognize the truth when we see it." So I suppose it's typical. They were torn by a certain amount of pride in a member of the family publishing a book, and at the same time, concerned about family reputation because of the kind words I had to say about blacks. Mixed feelings, ambivalent.