How Superman Defeated the KKK (in Real Life): Hear the World-Changing 1946 Radio Drama

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 Freako­nom­icsThe 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

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.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Orig­i­nal 1940s Super­man Car­toon: Watch 17 Clas­sic Episodes Free Online

1950 Super­man Poster Urged Kids to Defend All Amer­i­cans, Regard­less of Their Race, Reli­gion or Nation­al Ori­gin

Read Mar­tin Luther King and The Mont­gomery Sto­ry: The Influ­en­tial 1957 Civ­il Rights Com­ic Book

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.