How Superman Fought The KKK In Real Life

According to the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris University, sometime in the mid-1940s, encyclopedia salesman and enthusiastic racist John S. Perkins had his wrist cut open with a jackknife and swore a blood oath: "Klansman," he was asked, "do you solemnly swear by God and the Devil never to betray secrets entrusted to you as a Klavalier of the Klan?" He did. It wasn't his first big lie of the day.

In truth, "John S. Perkins" was a pseudonym: a false identity taken by journalist Stet Kennedy in an attempt to infiltrate a Georgia chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. After a bad back kept him out of World War II, he felt a need to fight for his country, and saw an opportunity when America experienced a sudden post-war boom in Klan membership. Taking extensive notes, Kennedy would compile eyewitness accounts of the group's ceremonies and plans, then report back to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

As the plan moved forward, however, he encountered obstacles. He felt that he couldn't trust his law enforcement contacts, and that the ones who were trustworthy were unwilling to take action — it wasn't unusual to see high-ranking government officials publicly support the Klan in those days, with Mississippi congressman John Rankin calling it "an old American institution."

So Kennedy did what any right-thinking, red blooded American does when they don't know where else to turn: he went to Superman.

Truth, justice, and the American way

The 1940s had been good to the Man of Steel — his radio program, The Adventures of Superman, was broadcast nationally multiple times a week starting in 1942. When the war ended and the Nazis were, in theory, a thing of the past, the show's writers went on the lookout for new and exciting villains for their protagonist to battle.

Kennedy, having witnessed the way that the Klan ran on secrecy, realized that the secret to bringing them down might be to expose their rituals, and he pitched them as a new antagonist for the last son of Krypton. The Superman writers ran with the idea, and a sixteen-part story arc titled "The Clan of the Fiery Cross" was broadcast beginning in June of 1946. The series, without naming the Klan specifically, outlined everything from the hate group's eccentricities to their in-house gossip. Klan leaders, furious about the show's portrayal, threatened to boycott the show's sponsor, but it was too late. "The Clan of the Fiery Cross" saw some of The Adventures of Superman's best ratings, and the Klan's sudden loss of mystique contributed to a downturn in recruitment numbers.

Yellow sunlight is the best disinfectant.