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Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
March 7, 2024 3:03 am

Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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March 7, 2024 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, hear how an undercover agent infiltrated the KKK, and with the help of Superman, exposed them to the world.

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Available at Walgreens. 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 4 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. 6 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 America's 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 grown-ups, 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 vs. 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. Whether you're hosting a party or just cleaning the house, turn it up and rock out with iHeart Radio and room-filling sound. Learn more about Roku Stream Bar today at

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Save up to 50% at Rules and restrictions may apply. 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's Writers Project, which was a New Deal program for unemployed writers, editors, researchers, historians, and they would travel to the state collecting life stories, tall tales, folk zones, 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 the 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. Their 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.

So through 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.

And the Klan of the fiery cross, supreme authority vested by me as the transcorpion. 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 laudatory 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 clan was humiliated. This villain's infamy would soon fizzle out.

In the 1920s, during the clan'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. Ready to celebrate International Women's Day? M&Ms and I Heart present Women Take the Mic, sharing empowering stories of women supporting and celebrating each other. And of course, there is a smooth and creamy companion for your listening pleasure, peanut butter M&Ms. Because they're just another way to help treat yourself in situations where you deserve a little added delight, like listening to your favorite podcast.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-07 04:40:15 / 2024-03-07 04:48:33 / 8

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