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Superman has done a lot of good over the years. Whether he’s fighting against evil villains or saving the world, he’s always been an idolized hero of the fictional universe. Yet his heroism hasn't just helped the citizens of Metropolis – it's also had an impact on the real world. This has never been more evident than in 1946, when the popular radio show The Adventures of Superman pitted the caped superhero against the Ku Klux Klan in a 16-episode story arc entitled “The Clan of the Fiery Cross.”
It came about thanks to activist and writer Stetson Kennedy, who infiltrated the Georgia KKK in the mid-1940s and shared member names with NBC radio host Drew Pearson. He then contacted the producer of The Adventures of Superman and pitched the idea of having Superman go up against the Klan and expose their bigotry. Thus, “The Clan of the Fiery Cross” was born.
In the show, Ku Klux Klan rituals and codewords were exposed. Superman destroys the KKK through ridicule, referring to them as garbage and mocking them before a national audience. Although unfortunately even Superman couldn't put an end to the Klan entirely, the radio show damaged KKK membership prospects and their numbers rapidly declined.
A fictional superhero and real-world evil:
- The authors of the book Freakonomics described “The Clan of the Fiery Cross” as “the greatest single contributor to the weakening of the Ku Klux Klan" after World War II.
- Stetson Kennedy became affiliated with KKK organizations under the pseudonym John Perkins while working with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He shared Klan secrets with members of law enforcement, journalists, and prosecutors.
- In 2019, comic book writer Gene Luen Yang wrote Superman Smashes the Klan, a three-issue comic book series with art by Gurihiru. The comics, set in 1946, focus on the Chinese-American Lee family and were inspired by “The Clan of the Fiery Cross.”