Monday, October 5, was the birthday of Stetson Kennedy. I thought to honor him by rushing over here and sharing my appreciation, but then I realized absent from social media there is less urgency to get my thoughts and opinions out there. Before I get into the life and work of Stetson Kennedy, let’s check in about the exodus. Melissa asked me how it felt to be off of social media. The overwhelming emotion is relief, like exiting Interstate 65 between Montgomery and Birmingham and just taking U.S. 31 up to Pea Ridge and enjoying the slower pace. My days are longer, and a single thread of thought can develop and grow throughout the day. The books on the shelf are no longer anachronistic decor, but voices whispering to me from faraway places and moments in time. Their pages do not blink with advertising or the knee-jerk opinions of unqualified dolts and bores. “HOLDEN NEEDS TO STOP WHINING AND GET BACK IN SCHOOL, ANNOYING, DO NOT RECOMMEND.”
So if you are wondering what it might feel like, there is nothing to fear. You will feel like yourself, except more so.
Now, William Stetson Kennedy. I searched my site for references to him, and he has a feature in the Clydesdale Hall of Fame, and some cameos in other posts. As a writer he is able, striving for clarity and function over literary device. A social activist born during the first world war, he died mere months before American troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011. I met him just a month before he died.
He was 95 years-old, and the feature act of an art show titled The American Dream. He was gracious with his time, and at least two-hundred of us clustered around him sitting on the floor, or craning our necks to see. A month later, he died.
His books, The Klan Unmasked, and Southern Exposure, are seminal works of the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century. Do they matter now?
As a white man, looking to not make matters worse, or enjoy the mantle of privilege without the responsibility to use it subversively, Stetson is a role model. There are many, many others. James Reeb, John Brown, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and Charles Moore. They all died for the cause of racial equality. Martyrdom is not a requirement though, to apply one’s white skin to the purpose of liberating darker skin. Senator Doug Jones, from Alabama, who sent murderers Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry to prison for the rest of their lives for the murder of children at the 16th Ave. Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL is a living example.
It’s great to admire Medgar Evers, Nelson Mandela, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. I consider it my personal responsibility to defend Rev. Al Sharpton from his moronic detractors, teeth full of bread, necks shiny from grease, as their spittle-soaked recitation of stereotypes and urban legend land on screen or pavement.
Those leaders are not our role models though, as honkies and cracker-ass-crackers. We have plenty of examples who look just like us, and we would do best to learn their stories, and aspire to their ranks.