Earlier this week, we featured the 1950 Superman poster that urged students to defend the American way and fight discrimination everywhere. Today, we present another chapter from Superman’s little-known history as a Civil Rights defender.
The year is 1946. World War II has come to an end. And now membership in the Ku Klux Klan starts to rise again. Enter Stetson Kennedy, a human rights activist, who manages to infiltrate the KKK and then finds out an ingenious way to take them down. He contacts the producers of the popular Adventures of Superman radio show, and pitches them on a new storyline: Superman meets and defeats the KKK. Needing a new enemy to vanquish, the producers greenlight the idea.
The 16-episode series, “The Clan of the Fiery Cross,” aired in June, 1946 and effectively chipped away at the Klan’s mystique, gradually revealing their secret codewords and rituals. Listen to the episodes above. And take heart in knowing this: According to Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt, the authors of Freakonomics, The Clan of the Fiery Cross was “the greatest single contributor to the weakening of the Ku Klux Klan.” Mocked and trivialized, the Klan’s numbers went back on the decline.
For more information on this chapter in superhero history, read the well-reviewed YA book, Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate. Also find more information on these episodes at the Superman Homepage.
To hear more original Superman radio shows, head over to Archive.org.
Note: there is a little bit of a controversy about what exact role Stetson Kennedy played in infiltrating the Klan. You can read up on that here.
Thanks, Alissa, for calling this radio series to our attention.