When Superman Defeated the KKK
Superman has fought many evils through his 70+ years of existence, from Lex Luthor’s giant kryptonite robot to Lois Lane’s attempt to become a pop singer. However, none of them quite compare to the time that Superman actually defeated the Ku Klux Klan.
While the Ku Klux Klan had been on the decline since the 1920s, the racist organization made a bit of a recovery following World War II. The KKK got a boost in recruitment and saw its political influence begin to expand for the first time in decades. This led investigational journalist Stetson Kennedy to go undercover and join the KKK, learning many of the group’s secrets. Kennedy planned to reveal those secrets, stripping away the mystique that the KKK had built up and hopefully putting an end to the boost in recruitment. Unfortunately, the KKK’s influence, while diminished from its heyday, was still enough to get media outlets to ignore the story and keep local authorities from acting.
Stetson would later publish a book about his experiences called The Klan Unmasked. It’s worth noting that his account of his deeds should be taken with a grain of salt, since he had a history of taking credit for other people’s deeds. He does deserve the credit, though, for bringing Superman onto the scene – metaphorically speaking.
See, in the 1940s, The Adventures of Superman was one of the top radio broadcasts in the country. It was so influential that things from the broadcast, such as Kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen, made its way into the comic books. But following the defeat of the Nazis, the producers were looking for a new evil for the big guy to fight. That’s where Kennedy came in with his information about the KKK.
Kennedy produced his findings about the Ku Klux Klan to the creators of the radio show, and they in turn created a 16-part serial called “The Clan of the Fiery Cross.” Superman’s foe in the broadcast wasn’t the real Ku Klux Klan, but the similarities were close enough that America got the message. Code words and rituals similar to what the KKK actually used were described, turning the group from something that was perceived as mysterious and appealing to a disaffected post-war America to a bunch of racists in bedsheets.
The KKK reportedly called for a boycott of Kellogg’s, which was the show’s biggest sponsor, but Kellogg’s ignored it. The boycott obviously failed to make an impact of the cereal giant’s sales, and “The Clan of the Fiery Cross” was a huge hit across America.
Following the radio serial, recruitment for the KKK dropped significantly, and the group went back into decline. Kennedy’s book wound up becoming a best-seller, which weakened the Klan even further. Today, there are about 6,000 people in the United States that declare an affiliation with the KKK. While that number is still disturbingly high, it is a far cry from the tens of thousands that existed in the 1940s, and that is thanks in part to Superman.