A few days ago, I watched a fascinating television program about Stetson Kennedy. For those who may not know, Kennedy was the unsung hero who infiltrated and unmasked the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940’s. He was referred to as “the greatest single contributor to the weakening of the Ku Klux Klan”.
After World War II, Kennedy worked as a journalist for the liberal newspaper PM. His stories appeared in newspapers and magazines such as the New York Post and The Nation, for which he was for a time Southern correspondent. He authored a number of exposés of the Klan and the racist Jim Crow system including Southern Exposure (1946), Jim Crow Guide to the USA (1959), and After Appomattox: How the South Won the War (1995).
In the post-World War II era, the Klan experienced a huge resurgence. Its membership was skyrocketing, and its political influence was increasing. In 1946, Kennedy provided information that included secret code words and details of Ku Klux Klan rituals to the writers of the Superman radio program. The result was a series of episodes in which Superman the “Man of Steel” battled the hateful forces of the Grand Dragon and the Klan.
In the 1940s, The Adventures of Superman was a radio sensation. Kids across the country huddled around their sets as the Man of Steel leapt off the page and over the airwaves. Although Superman had been fighting crime in print since 1938, the weekly audio episodes now fleshed out his storyline even further.
In my view Kennedy reasoned that to make the greatest impact on the Klan and reduce its influence, it would be important to target children, the Klansmen of tomorrow. America had just come out of World War II and the fight against Nazism. Pictures of the atrocities of the holocaust were circulating far and wide. Superman comics had devoted a great deal of activity to fighting Nazism and America’s enemies, and now the Superman series was looking for new material.
What better way to influence and educate the children of the United States that the Klan was everything that America stood against. It would be the battle of “Truth, Justice and the American way”, against the forces of evil; this time, the Klan.
The 16-episode series titled “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” pitted the Man of Steel against the men in white hoods. The series concerned how a new kid on the block, an Asia named Tommy Lee became the pitcher for the Unity Club Baseball Team because he was supposedly better than the team’s current pitcher, Chuck Griggs an all American. Chuck’s uncle, a Klan member embellishes the story and puts the usual racist spin on it of the white American were being forced out of their place of prominence and displaced by immigrants.
The following is the second episode in the series. Yes, I realize that the series is quite HOKEY. But listening to this episode in its entirety will give you a better idea of what happened, and how it was twisted around racially. The following is the second episode of the series.
One of the unexpected results was that by exposing many of the Klan’s most guarded secrets, from code words to rituals, Superman completely stripped the Klan of its mystique. Within two weeks of the broadcast, KKK recruitment was down to zero. And by 1948, people were showing up to Klan rallies just to mock them. Continue reading