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"In My Father's Village, Nobody Could Read...He Moved to America and Became an Engineer", A Client Was Disrespecting My Employees, So I Fired Them and Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
June 17, 2022 3:00 am

"In My Father's Village, Nobody Could Read...He Moved to America and Became an Engineer", A Client Was Disrespecting My Employees, So I Fired Them and Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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June 17, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Kevin Samy shares his family's remarkable American dream story. Kathryn Minshew, the founder of career platform The Muse tells us about an early ethical dilemma she faced while building her business. Rick Bowers tells us an undercover agent infiltrated the KKK, and with the help of Superman exposed them to the world.

Support the show (https://www.ouramericanstories.com/donate)

 

Time Codes:

00:00 - "In My Father's Village, Nobody Could Read...He Moved to America and Became an Engineer"

12:30 - A Client Was Disrespecting My Employees, So I Fired Them

25:00 - Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. Up next, a story from Kevin Sami, the son of Indian American immigrants who appeared in Forbes 30 Under 30 for Law and Policy in 2016. Today, Kevin shares with us the story of his family's love for the sport he played, football, and why they value his education so much.

Take it away, Kevin. You know, I grew up in Canton, Ohio. I am first-generation Indian American, so my mom and dad, they emigrated from rural South India. My dad came to the United States to do his doctorate. He ended up moving to Ohio to work at a company as an engineer, and that's where I was born.

And I had what I believe is a pretty archetypal Midwest upbringing in a lot of ways. I played football in high school, and I ended up playing in college, too. I don't think I would have if not for the fact that I grew up so close to the Hall of Fame and the culture there was so deeply steeped in football.

I didn't know I would be as good as I was. Playing in college is difficult to do, and I say that to give credit to everyone who makes it to Division I ball. You know, my parents, they really wanted to learn the game after I became interested in it, after I started to do well, and I got looks from colleges. I was all-state for two years in the state of Ohio, which is known for good football. It went from me trying my hand in it to there would be Indian families that would come from different parts of the state and around the region who'd come watch my high school games, just as a function of being now interested in this game they didn't have any other reason to be, let's say, before. During the Thanksgiving, the Turkey Bowl, the Thanksgiving game that NFL plays every year, Indian families would come to my house because my dad would teach them the rules, teach them how the game worked.

There are fewer things I feel more strongly about in terms of what have shaped me than the game of football. I very much grew up in the way that I think we all hope America to be, one that is not always, but predominantly accepting of difference, where this sort of multicultural experiment is more or less working. I mean, Google co-founder was a refugee, but an enormous amount of American winners of Nobel Prizes are immigrants. It's an amazing place where that type of reality exists.

I should say, segue into my parents. I mean, part of the reason I got involved in politics latched onto Barack Obama's candidacy is he talked about his famous DNC speech that really launched him into the public ether, talked about his father's family farming goats in Kenya. My dad's family farmed goats in India. India is a fascinating place, largest democracy on the planet. The caste system in India was a vestige of British rule, and it doesn't officially exist. But the caste system is still a kind of unfortunate vestige of the past that has some kind of relevance in modern Indian society. And so my family is from a relatively lower caste. We are not from the higher caste, if you will.

The reason I say that is, you know, I am from a lineage of meat-eating farmer South Indian people, uneducated. My mom and dad were the first in their families to really go to school. My father was the first to go to any school, let alone higher education. You know, he grew up in a village with no running water, no electricity.

Nobody could read. It was an illiterate community. There was a neighboring village where there was one guy that used to call him in, you know, my parents' mother tongue, Tamil. They used to call him the reading uncle, because he was the one guy within the village. You know, however many mile radius that could kind of read, so people would bring him letters or the very small amount of things that needed to be read.

They'd bring him that collateral, that content to translate or to read for them. There was a moment in my dad's childhood where there were a handful of little kids, one of which was him. And some of the parents thought to themselves, look, let's pay this guy a few rupees a month, right, to teach our kids.

You know, basic, basic Tamil, basic literacy. They kind of hollowed out a little clay, less than 500 square foot space that was a temple with some old idols and things in there that God knows how long they've been there. Took some things out and they bring sand from the river bed to coat the floor so it was fresh and soft and malleable. And they would use their fingers to write in the sand as a chalkboard and to do letters and numbers. And when the sand was coarse, when it was a hotter day or wasn't soft anymore, their fingers would bleed.

And so it's kind of an indigenous vegetable in the area that they would crack open and they would put on their fingers like thimbles and to protect them after they started to bleed to keep continuing their lessons. That's how my dad learned how to read. He ended up going to a nearby government school that was 13 kilometers away.

His father, my grandfather, saved money for a year to buy a bike so he could bike there. One thing led to the next to the next and education was really a way out of that type of poverty. I'll just say, you know, very much so the American dream.

I mean, he came to the United States to give his family a better shot, to sort of raise the quality of life by an order of magnitude. I think my appreciation for being American is so rooted in that. And how is it, you know, I don't blame people for not knowing.

I wish I wish I could show them. But how is it that you can't appreciate the value of a place like the United States when you can see how far you can go? It is that possibility that is what makes this place special. And yeah, I know I spoke a little about football, but the game meant so much to me. It really built me.

That's r0.com. How can you not appreciate or value this country when you see how far you can come, said Kevin about America. His father, well, no running water in his community, the first in his family to even have the ability to read. Comes to America, becomes an engineer, and that next generation, oh my goodness, you know the rest of the story, you just heard it. A terrific story about the American dream, about poverty, about immigration and about the ability of America to absorb different people from different places. Kevin Sami's story here on Our American Story. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show, we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country. Stories from our big cities and small towns.

But we truly can't do the show without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to our American stories dot com and click the donate button. Give a little, give a lot.

Go to our American stories dot com and give. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

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My family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that all free clear mega packs, they have your back. Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we continue with our American stories, and now it's time for our Do the Right Thing series about ethical dilemmas, and it's sponsored by our friends at the Daniels Fund. And today we bring you a young voice out of New York City. So my name is Catherine Minshew. I felt really frustrated by the tools that were available to help me navigate my career. And so I started thinking, well, you know, what if you could go online and get career advice, peek inside companies and a sense for different career paths and different roles and jobs and opportunities all in one place. And eventually I stopped thinking about it and I dove in and I started a business.

I was about 25 when I started the Muse. You know, at that point in time, I was probably working north of 80, maybe even 90 hours a week. I pitched 148 investors before I was able to close our seed round of capital, and I also had to build and grow the business.

So there were times when I was getting, you know, no's from investors all day. And then I would go home, you know, let's call it 930, 10 p.m., and I'd do another couple hours of answering email all the work that I couldn't get to during the day. I was going to bed at 2 a.m., you know, between 1 to 3 a.m. nearly every night, sometimes later.

But I would try, quote unquote, and be asleep by 2. And, you know, it was it was hectic. It was insane. But at the same time, I had never loved anything more than I loved building that business. And it also felt like such a gift to be working on something that was so meaningful.

You know, jobs and careers, like people derive an intense amount of meaning from where they work. Even though, you know, there were days I just I wasn't sure we were going to make it through. So early in the company's history, we were scrambling hard for every customer and every client. And it often felt like each deal we signed was going to be the difference between success or failure, you know, between the business surviving to live another day and going out of business.

And so every deal was really hard fought. And I remember probably I want to say it was probably about a year and a half in, I heard through someone on my team that they were having a lot of issues with a client that we'd recently signed. And, you know, I remember asking, well, what sort of issues? Because issues is a really broad word.

It could mean a lot of different things. But as I dug in, it became clear that the client was not treating our people in a way that aligned with our values. It was, you know, I just think they were being incredibly rude and disrespectful. I initially got involved in the relationship and told the senior most contact that we had at the client that I had some concerns about how their team was treating my staff and that it was important that they not do that. You know, they seemed to take it very seriously. They were very kind. But when I went to check back in later, gosh, a week or two or three later with my team, it seemed pretty clear that the behavior hadn't changed. And I remember thinking about the situation for a while and trying to think about what was the best thing to do. The individuals at this client were being very kind to me, but they were just truly being absolutely terrible to members of my team.

And, you know, it felt like in some ways it made it worse that they were treating the less experienced members of the team so much worse as if they felt like they could do that because they could just get away with it. And so, I mean, I remember talking about it with my co-founder, Alex. And ultimately we came to the fact that given that we had tried warning them, we had tried asking them nicely and they hadn't changed their behavior. This just wasn't a company that we were willing to do business with, that we were interested in doing business with. And so I ended up getting on the phone with them and saying that we'd be canceling their contract and refunding their money. And that was hard.

It was a bit scary. Again, we just didn't have a lot of money to spare. And so it was painful to give it back. But I also felt like it was really important that I set standards for how people treat my team. When I told my team that I was going to fire this client, I don't think they initially believed me. I think they appreciated that I was standing up for them, but imagined that I would emerge from the second phone call with, I don't know, some result that wasn't the client being fired. And there was a real relief and there was a real appreciation when I said that that wasn't what had happened and that we wouldn't be working with this company anymore. And I think it set a really powerful example for my willingness to forego revenue to the business in order to do the right thing by our people.

And in particular, because the mission of The Muse is about helping people navigate their careers and find that best fit job, company and career, it was also a way of saying that we just didn't believe that a company that was going to be behaving in that way had a place on our platform. You only really know what your values are until you're willing to defend them. It can be very easy to say that you believe in X, Y and Z, but it's when push hits shove.

It's when you have to make a hard call that it really becomes clear if you're willing to put your money where your mouth is. And look, one of the hardest things about being a leader is making the calls. And a lot of calls are not black and white. There are other clients that have been a little prickly or a little bit difficult. And I certainly don't think that you need to go around firing clients left and right if they step an inch outside of your prescribed ideal communication method. And at the same time, sometimes people just cross a line in a way that is deeply egregious. And I think that I certainly took a lot of knocks as I was building the Muse. And I'm sure my team dealt with a lot of crazy situations and a lot of difficult people.

But I remember this one just felt, it felt too far. And I think that it's such a powerful statement for a team when you draw the line around what you won't accept. Frankly, it's really powerful for an individual.

It's sort of the concept of boundaries writ large. And again, I believe in giving people second chances. I believe in being gracious. I also believe that a lot of humans are going through a lot of stuff. And so when someone shows up to a conversation or an email exchange or a meeting with aggression or with rudeness or with different behaviors, I try and remember that I don't know what they're dealing with.

And, and, and at the same time, you know, there's just certain patterns of repeated behavior that I think you've got to remove from your life. And so, you know, just because I personally wasn't having to deal with this client in my role as a CEO, once it became clear to me how they were behaving and the impact that was having on my team, I felt, you know, I felt like it was the right thing to do and didn't regret it for an instant. And I think even if The Muse had failed, I am so, I don't think I would have regretted kind of going out on the field and giving it my all. And the fact that, you know, we were ultimately, after years of struggle, we were ultimately able to build a really, you know, kind of successful business that now has a brand in the space. And yet, you know, I'm sure that the majority of Americans are probably not familiar with The Muse yet. We're kind of, I joke that we're like in the tweener stage where we're much bigger than the startup that we used to be.

We have, you know, I think something like 75 million people worldwide a year who come to The Muse in some form or other, but we're so much smaller than the big players and, you know, and now we just got to work on coming for them. And you've been listening to Kathryn Minshew tell her story, our Do the Right Thing series, again brought to us by the folks at the Daniels Fund, here on Our American Story. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit uhcmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. This is our American Stories, and up next, our own Joey Cortez brings you a story about a fictional character we all know and love, Superman, and how he would team up with the real-life undercover agent to take down a truly vicious villain. Over the years, Superman has fought many villains, including the KKK. Rick Bowers brings us the story of how the hero not only fought this villain in the fictional series, but also in real life.

Here's Rick with the backstory. The actual Superman character was created by two Jewish kids in Cleveland in the 1930s. And these two kids were high school students and they loved science fiction.

They would hole up in their attic studio reading science fiction magazines, books. They would go to the movies, you know, caped heroes like Zorro were doing great things on the big screen. And they were taking all of that in and they started to create their own characters. And they created a character and a story called the Reign of Superman. But in that first iteration, Superman was bad. He was an evil scientist doing horrid experiments on homeless men during the Depression. And he had no real superpowers. He was just super evil. So they were creating some interesting characters, but there was always something about that character, that original Superman, that was not quite right. So they put that on a shelf and let it incubate. And as Superman lore goes, one night, Jerry Siegel, one of these two young men who were struggling to get through the Depression, find work and make it in the field of comic art, had an epiphany.

We have it backwards. What the world really needs is a good Superman. And that epiphany and the character that evolved from it came just as publishers in New York City were developing the first comic books. And the first comic books were actually compilations of newspaper strips. Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, and those newspaper strips would be put in books and sold for a dime a piece.

But after the supply of newspaper strips had been exhausted, these publishers needed original content. And one publisher recalled this set of drawings that these kids from Cleveland had set with this character called Superman. And they were in a pinch to launch a comic book called Action Comics. So they hired Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to put together 13 pages of Superman stories for the original edition of Action Comics. And before anyone really knew what happened, hundreds of thousands of those comic books had been sold. And the character that we all now know as Superman was born.

Boys and girls, your attention, please. Presenting a new exciting radio program. In the 1940s, the adventures of Superman on the air was created. Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets. Up in the sky, look, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's Superman. And a creative writer and producer named Bob Maxwell transformed Superman into a radio show from the mutual broadcasting system in New York, where actors and sound effects people would create a radio program three times a week where Superman took on mad scientists and crime gangs and evil spectral beings.

And it became a hit. So Superman was now in comic books. He was a strip in newspapers.

He was a serial in the movie theaters and he was reaching four million households three times a week through the radio. As World War II comes, the creators use him more as a weapon against America's enemies. So he's taking on Nazi spies. He's taking on German generals. And in one case, he actually took on Hitler and grabbed him by the scruff and carried him off to an international tribunal to be tried for war crimes.

So Superman has become a meaningful character in certain ways. And as the war ended and as times changed, the creators of the radio program asked a very perplexing question. What do we do now? It seemed like the crime bosses and the evil scientists had run their course. The war was over, so Hitler was no longer a target. But there was something happening here at home that got their attention. The Ku Klux Klan was attempting a revival.

Six million Jews had just been killed in Nazi concentration camps. And here we have people in our own backyard who are preaching a similar philosophy and who believe that this post-war era can belong to them, that we can bring Americans along to the Klan's philosophy and we can create an organization with millions of members. So these two forces are very different. One is a fictional character on the radio, in comic books. And one is an actual real world organization that is actually carrying out atrocious acts against its enemies.

Who would know that one day they would collide? While all this was happening, a young man named Stetson Kennedy was growing up in Jacksonville, Florida. Even at the age of 12, he was extremely uncomfortable with the perverse and pervasive racism of the time. Through the streets of Jacksonville, Klansmen marched, some on horseback, dressed in robes and hoods.

And at first he thought that this was kind of a club for grownups and they got to dress up in costumes every day of the year, anytime they wanted. But he later learned that this was actually a group that, quote, took care of people in Colored Town, which means they imposed their will on Black citizens. And it was when the African-American maid in their house was attacked by the Klan for answering back a streetcar operator who refused to give her the proper change. She was brought home bloodied and beaten that he realized what the real Klan was all about. And this young man, obviously being out of step with much of the culture of his time, decided at that point that his life would be dedicated to fighting this kind of hate.

And we've been listening to Rick Bowers, and he's the author of Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan, the true story of how the iconic superhero battled the men of hate. When we come back, more of this remarkable story on Our American Story. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCMedicareHealthPlans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So, if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try All-Free Clear Mega Packs. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs. Which, my family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So, the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that All-Free Clear Mega Packs, they have your back.

Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we're back with our American stories and the story of Superman versus the KKK. As this organization grew, there was one real-life superhero looking to stop them, Stetson Kennedy.

Let's get back to Rick Bowers with the rest of the story. In 1937, Stetson Kennedy became an interviewer with the Florida Writers' Project, which was a New Deal program for unemployed writers, editors, researchers, historians, and they would travel the state collecting life stories, tall tales, folk songs, and fables from common people. But he would record folk songs from blues singers. He would record stories from field hands and sharecroppers. And he started to understand that these stories, these songs, these rituals, these kind of values were what held people together.

It held culture together. And so in his mind, this was a great insight. And he came to see that by having this information himself, he could be a much better writer, communicator, and he could tell the stories of the common people and inform others of their plights. So for Stetson Kennedy, it was the injustice that was being inflicted on these poor people. It was the racism that was directed at these African American field hands, sharecroppers, fishermen, and it just hit him at such a level that he dedicated himself to trying to fix it. And he was working at the time for an organization called the Anti-Defamation League. And the Anti-Defamation League is an organization that opposes prejudice against Jewish people and fights for the rights of all people. And they hired him as an infiltrator to get inside the Klan.

The dangers were very real. In 1946, the Klan is reviving in Atlanta, Georgia. And Stetson through his research knows this. He knows that this organization with a long history of violence is trying to make a comeback. And it's all happening in what they called the Imperial City of Atlanta, Georgia. So he moved to Atlanta, Georgia with the express purpose of infiltrating the Klan. So Stetson, through the ADL, takes on a false persona. He takes on the persona of John Perkins, a encyclopedia salesman and the publisher of a hate sheet. He begins hanging around with Klansmen, talking their language.

He begins attending their meetings. And everything he discovers is filed back to the Anti-Defamation League in the form of a spy report. And he's reporting on some of the atrocities at the time that are just so brutal that, you know, they shake you to the core. Two black couples driving down a road outside of Atlanta in that year, 1946, are dragged from their car, taken to a riverbank and shot dead.

A black taxi driver in Atlanta who was seen giving a ride to a white woman is dragged from his car and killed. Inside the Klan group, Stetson would write reports about their plans to invade a government armory, seize weapons and orchestrate an all-out attack on black communities. And Stetson is in the middle of this.

The entire time he was walking this fine line where one wrong step probably meant death. Stetson also risked writing columns under pseudonyms, exposing the KKK's hierarchy, customs, traditions, and most notably, their brutality. Meanwhile, as we learned earlier, the Superman radio show creators sought a new type of villain based on real-life people, awakening their audience to the evil in their own lives. The first villain would be the KKK, or in their 16-part series, known as the Klan, of the Fiery Cross. They worked with the ADL and used much of Stetson's findings, hoping to strip the Klan of their mystique and attraction by revealing what they're actually like behind all the secrecy.

In 16 episodes, this arc takes place and people are kidnapped, people are threatened. Clark Kent and Lois Lane have to put out a special edition of the Daily Planet to let the public know that this Klan group is threatening people. And of course, Superman has to take flight and round up these Klansmen and haul them off to jail. Stetson Kennedy always said, the way to take down the Klan is by ridiculing them. That is, if you look closely at their rituals, this language that they use where everything starts with K, so the big Klan gathering, is a Klon vocation.

This kind of ridiculous language can be made fun of. These ridiculous outfits that these people wear, these long robes, these hoods over their heads, these little slits for eye holes. They look like clowns, they look like kids at Halloween dressed up as ghosts.

So he felt that that was a great way to undercut the Klan. Suddenly, they come into an opening. And as the car stops, Chuck gasps at the strange scene before him. In a glade, casting weird shadows over the nearby hills and lighting the sky above burns a huge wooden cross. Before it kneel, half a hundred men clothed in long robes. Pointed hoods, slit only at the eyes, cover their heads and faces. And a low guttural chant issues harshly from their hidden lips, sending an uneasy chill through Chuck's blood. While the boy looks about him at the fearsome sight, Matt Riggs dons a robe and hood on which a pale blue scorpion is embroidered. Then, followed by Chuck, he approaches the kneeling hooded band, a strangely barbaric company in the dancing light of the flaming cross. Gosh, who are all these guys, Uncle Matt?

And why are you wearing the sheets and the hoods? We're the Klan of the fiery cross, Chuck. We're a great secret society pledged to purify America. America for 100% Americans only. One race, one religion, one color.

I don't get it. America's got all kinds of religions and colors. When we get through, there'll only be one.

Only one? But the Constitution says all Americans have the same rights and privileges. The Constitution? We'll change that. Now be quiet. Be quiet until I call on you. Attention, brothers. All hail the transcorpion.

In the Klan of the fiery cross, supreme authority vested by me is grand... So it was a very different kind of program for kids. It was very revolutionary for its time. In the end, it was extremely successful. The media praise that flowed in was extraordinary. Industry groups hailed Superman as a hero for tolerance.

Education groups said, now we see that these characters can play a positive role. Newspapers wrote logitary articles, some of them saying that this is great for kids, but maybe their parents should listen to it as well. There are stories that come from actual Klansmen that tell the story of how their kids would listen to that show and then act it out. So one kid would put on a Superman outfit. The other one would put a pillowcase over their head and wrap a sheet around themselves.

And then Superman would grab the white-sheeted kid and drag him off to jail. Now these are Klansmen watching this, so they became very infuriated with what this show was doing. And they felt that they were the ridicule of the world, where millions of people are listening to this and they think we're a bunch of fools. The Klan was humiliated. This villain's infamy would soon fizzle out. In the 1920s, during the Klan's peak years, they had 4 million members nationwide. Today, they have only 3,000, thanks in part to the Superman character created by two boys from Cleveland, Ohio, and a real-life superhero with the courage to go undercover and expose a villain in his own backyard. And great work as always to Joey Cortez, and a special thanks to Rick Bowers for sharing the story. And, well, there's not much to add. The story of Superman vs. the KKK, here on Our American Story.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-16 14:32:56 / 2023-02-16 14:47:53 / 15

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