Saturday, December 31, 2005

Stetson Kennedy and Superman Beat the KKK

Superman Versus the KKK. Although greatly diminished today, the Ku Klux Klan has had a lot of influence on American history. In the early and mid-20th Century, it was able to control large portions of state governments in the USA.

That power ebbed. And one of the biggest reasons was a man known as Stetson Kennedy. He was (and still is) a white southerner with a family history of Klan membership. Despite this, he did not like the Klan and decided to act against it. Shortly after World War Two, he went undercover to learn Klan secrets. This lead to his book The Klan Unmasked.

However, he did not wait until he published his book to leak Klan knowledge. He gave it to the writers of the Superman radio show. And they used it...

The blogged article notes, "THE MOST noteworthy Superman radio episodes are described in Weyn Craig Wade's indispensable history of the Ku Klux Klan, The Fiery Cross. According to Wade, Stetson Kennedy, a reporter for the short-lived lefty newspaper PM, went undercover into the Klan, learning the secret passwords and countersigns used by the Grand Dragon "Doc" Green's vicious Klavern No. 1 of Atlanta. For sport, Kennedy passed on the info to writers of the Superman radio show about that comic-book character whom Wade calls the ultimate antifacist."

The Superman radio shows did major damage to the Klan. They revealed Klan passwords and put the Klan on the same moral ground as the Nazis and Lex Luthor. Klan members were shocked to hear their children playing with Klan knowledge. And the Klan was not amused.

The article continues, "Green had to change his passwords because of the show. The Klan chief tried to retaliate by pressuring Pep Cereal--sponsors of the Adventures of Superman--off of grocery shelves in Atlanta. Despite Green's actions, the sponsors continued to green-light the anti-Klan shows."

The Superman radio show may be seen as trivial today. But it had a big impact on politics in the southern USA in the 1940s. It can be safely said the Stetson Kennedy (and Superman) helped to bring the KKK down a notch.


john_m_burt said...

I can understand why a journalist might turn to the writers of the Superman radio show, since it stood out from similar series on account of its excellent writing and characterization.

It can be persuasively argued that the radio show and not the comic books or the newspaper strip was the "definitive" rendering of Superman, since most of what the general public know about Superman comes from there: the first appearance of Kryptonite, the first stories set on Krypton before it exploded, the first stories of Clark Kent's childhood, the first appearance of Jimmy Olsen, the first occasion of Superman actually flying (rather than making immense long-jumps), to say nothing of memorable phrases such as "Look, up in the sky!" "Truth, Justice and the American Way!" and "Dashing into a nearby phone booth...".

I'd recommend the Superman radio show to anyone who's interested in audio drama.

Anonymous said...

Imagine a time when the entertainment industry actually made a positive contribution to our culture ....

That was a long time ago.

Bob Hawkins said...

Also, the negative reaction was probably less than it would have been if the information had appeared in a more "serious" form. SF and fantasy have been useful to express ideas contrary to the zeitgeist for a long time, "1984" and "Animal Farm" being examples.

Back in the 1930s, when all "serious" writers were waving a sad farewell to weak democracy and making the best deal possible with their tough new fascist overlords, E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman stories subversively depicted the victory of a free, multispecies melting pot over the totalitarian Empire of Boskone.

When the original "Addams Family" TV series was on, with Carolyn Jones and John Astin, one critic noted that it was the only series with an intact family where everyone respected each other. And where but on "Smallville" do we get teenagers who are grateful to their parents.