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KKK infiltrator Stetson Kennedy dies at 94

MIAMI -- Author and folklorist Stetson Kennedy, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan six decades ago and exposed its secrets to authorities and the public but was also criticized for possibly exaggerating his exploits, died yesterday. He was 94.

Kennedy died at Baptist Medical Center South near St. Augustine, Fla.

In the 1940s, Kennedy used the "Superman" radio show to expose and ridicule the Klan's rituals. In the 1950s he wrote "I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan," later renamed "The Klan Unmasked," and "The Jim Crow Guide."

"Exposing their folklore -- all their secret handshakes, passwords and how silly they were, dressing up in white sheets" was one of the strongest blows delivered to the Klan, said Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, in a 2007 interview. "If they weren't so violent, they would be silly."

Kennedy began his crusades against what he called "homegrown racial terrorists" during World War II after he was deemed unworthy for military service because of a back injury. He served as director of fact-finding for the southeastern office of the Anti-Defamation League and as director of the Anti-Nazi League of New York.

Using evidence from the Grand Dragon's wastebasket, he enabled the Internal Revenue Service to press for collection of a $685,000 tax lien from the Klan in 1944 and helped draft the brief used by the state of Georgia to revoke the Klan's national corporate charter in 1947.

Kennedy infiltrated the Klan by using the name of a deceased uncle who had been a member as a way to gain trust and membership. When he learned of plans for the Klan to take action, he would make sure it was broadcast, thwarting them.

Kennedy said he always feared exposure and remained scared throughout his life, mentioning threats, the shooting of his dog and frequent attempts to burn his home.

In the 1940s, Kennedy took his fight to a national stage when, while working as a consultant to the "Superman" radio show, he provided information to producers about the Klan, from their rituals to secret code words. The episodes were titled "Clan of the Fiery Cross."

He testified before a grand jury in Miami about the Klan chain of command in the 1951 bombing death of Florida NAACP leader Harry Moore and bombings aimed at black, Catholic and Jewish centers. He presented evidence in Washington of Klan bombings and other violence aimed at preventing blacks from voting in 1944 and 1946.

Late in life, Kennedy was miffed at allegations that some of his writings were fabricated or exaggerated. He acknowledged some material came from another man who did not want his name used. He said he intermingled his experiences and the other man's in a narrative to make them more compelling.

Born Oct. 5, 1916, in Jacksonville, William Stetson Kennedy was related to John B. Stetson, the hat manufacturer.

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