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Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Briefly Noted: ‘The Klan Unmasked’ by Stetson Kennedy

“Bringing a Message of Hope and Deliverance to White Christian America! A Message of Love NOT Hate!” – KKK Knights Party

kkkunmaskedThe first time my wife saw me off-the-rails angry was on a city street in an Atlanta suburb in the 1980s that was blocked by police so that a rag-tag KKK group could hold a parade. There was a large gap in the parade, and I wanted to drive across the intersection through the parade before it ended out of disrespect because I believed that allowing a KKK group to show the colors (and robes) in this manner was no more ethical than granting a Nazi group the same rights. (I didn’t do it because a cop held up his hand indicating I should wait.) I grew up in Florida where the Klan was strong and, by no means, seen as a loving Christian organization, so it took a lot of restraint to keep my foot on the brakes.

The Knights Party maintains that all the the negative publicity about the KKK over the years comes out of novels, Hollywood films, and a few rogue and macho men who stepped outside the rules and purposes of the group. While I think this is a ludicrous statement, I’ll let others decide where they think the evidence leads us on this matter.

Original Book - Kennedy published this in France where he lived for a while after the KKK put a bounty on his head.

Original Book – Kennedy published this in France where he lived for a while after the KKK put a bounty on his head.

The late Stetson Kennedy, a long-time civil rights activist as well as a folklorist who worked with Zora Neale Hurston and Alan Lomax. wrote “I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan” in 1954. The book, written like a Mickey Spillane thriller about Kennedy’s infiltration of the KKK in Georgia, had to be published in France since no U. S. publisher would touch it.

The book, which has had its share of controversy since it blends evidence from multiple sources and events as though they were actually part of Kennedy’s exploits under his alias of John S. Perkins, is nonetheless a compelling story. The controversy has for the most part been resolved in Kennedy’s favor inasmuch as the events in the book have been proven true even though Kennedy combined the work of several people under Perkins’ name to create a more readable book.

From the Publisher

“Stetson Kennedy here tells the story of his post-World War II years as an undercover agent in the KKK (where he rose to Kleagle rank). Fast-paced and suspenseful, the book is a gripping mix of eyewitness reports of Klan activities, accounts of Kennedy’s clandestine information-gathering, and his efforts to report his findings to the media and to any law enforcement agencies that would listen. As a result, for a time in the 1940s, Washington news commentator Drew Pearson was reading Klan meeting minutes on national radio, and radio’s Superman had America’s kids sharing the most current Klan passwords as fast as the Dragon could think up new ones.”

From the Stetson Kennedy Foundation

Wikipedia photo of Kennedy (1916-2011)

Wikipedia photo of Kennedy (1916-2011)

“The book is full of accounts of Kennedy and his Klan infiltrating colleague John Brown, about clandestine information gathering and of their efforts to protect people from being tortured, intimidated and murdered. The book also reveals Kennedy’s efforts to report his findings to the media and to any law enforcement agencies that would listen.” For more information about the book, KKK documents and the writing style controversy, see the Foundation web site.

Kennedy is also the author of Jim Crow Guide to the U.S.A., Southern Exposure, Palmetto Country, and Grits & Grunts.  For more information about the author, read the excellent obituary by Paul Ortiz, Stetson Kennedy and The Pursuit of Truth.

The Klan Unmasked is a chilling book. As I read it recently, all my own angers about the KKK has I saw them and read about them and heard about them in Florida crashed back into my old nightmares again: I had to remind myself, I was reading this book as research for my next novel rather than idle curiosity. If you want an antidote to the viewpoints of The Knights Party, this book will do it for you. So will the 1951 murder of activist Harry Moore, a KKK-related injustice Kennedy pursued for years.


KIndle cover 200x300Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a Jim Crow era novella that pulls no punches about the terrors of the Klan.

To learn more, visit the “Conjure Woman’s Cat” web site.



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4 thoughts on “Briefly Noted: ‘The Klan Unmasked’ by Stetson Kennedy

  1. Eek. What a world when evil is touted as good. I guess it’s necessary, otherwise people couldn’t live with themselves, but it’s good to know that the truth still exists beyond the pretty lies people tell themselves.

    • I found that comment so sickening when it appeared in the search engine hit for the KKK that I couldn’t go out and look at the web site for weeks. It felt dirty being on the home mage and then reading through all their explanations about how they have nothing in common with the public’s perception about the Klan. Now I’m probably on some damn list of miscreants who’ve accessed the site.

  2. I like your review style, Malcolm. Very authentic :). Would love to feature your reviews in our weekly curated email digest that goes out to thousands of people.

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