Cover image for Superman vs. the Ku Klux Klan : the true story of how the iconic superhero battled the men of hate
Superman vs. the Ku Klux Klan : the true story of how the iconic superhero battled the men of hate
Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : National Geographic, c2011.
Physical Description:
160 p., [4] p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 24 cm.
Corporate Subject:
Title Subject:


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book 741.5973 BOW 1 1

On Order



This book tells a group of intertwining stories that culminate in the historic 1947 collision of the Superman Radio Show and the Ku Klux Klan. It is the story of the two Cleveland teenagers who invented Superman as a defender of the little guy and the New York wheeler-dealers who made him a major media force. It is the story Ku Klux Klan's development from a club to a huge money-making machine powered by the powers of fear and hate and of the folklorist who--along with many other activists-- took on the Klan by wielding the power of words. Above all, it tells the story of Superman himself--a modern mythical hero and an embodiment of the cultural reality of his times--from the Great Depression to the present.

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Author Notes

Rick Bowers worked as a newspaper reporter and editor for more than 15 years, reporting for the Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Massachusetts, the Miami Herald, and USA Today . His articles have been published in many of the most prestigious publications in the country, including the Washington Post , Chicago Tribune , Philadelphia Inquirer , and TIME . Over the past decade Bowers has envisioned and directed innovative multimedia projects, telling powerful, socially relevant stories through print, the web, TV, radio, music, and drama. Working with AARP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the Library of Congress, he directed Voices of Civil Rights , a multimedia project that gathered thousands of first-hand accounts of the Civil Rights Movement to form the world's largest archive of testimonials from the era. The initiative included a History Channel documentary that won both Emmy and Peabody Awards. The website won the prestigious Webby Award. Bowers is the Director of Creative Initiatives at AARP, where he continues to develop far-reaching multimedia programs. He lives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., with his wife and two daughters.

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5 Up-This engrossing book chronicles the creation of Superman comics and its surprising effectiveness in combating prejudice. Bowers weaves this story with many strands, including a look at Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster as highly relatable, 1930s high school nerds. The story of Stetson Kennedy, a Southern writer who agitated against the KKK and harnessed Superman's power, is equally well drawn. Bowers delineates the social conscience of Superman from its inception, helping readers appreciate how comics-indeed, all art-can change the world. Gracefully written, this book is an inspiring testament to the power of the human spirit to fight evil. It is a well-researched, compulsively readable history that will appeal to a broad audience, including reluctant readers. Throughout, readers will be wondering how, exactly, Superman fought the KKK. The author builds up to this conclusion gradually, keeping his audience in suspense until the very end. The rich visual panels of comics in the middle of the volume beautifully illustrate how Superman communicated social messages through his stories. Readers may find the earlier chapters that focus on the visual side of the Superman empire more accessible than the later ones, a less-familiar medium. Teachers can easily remedy this by playing old shows, available online. This is an ideal text for classes exploring media studies, graphic novels, and civil rights. Librarians must buy this brilliant book-faster than a speeding bullet.-Jess deCourcy Hinds, Bard H.S. Early College, Queens, NY (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Horn Book Review

This crackerjack work of nonfiction uses the appeal of popular culture to illuminate social movements, mass media, and historical research. For superhero fans, Bowers (Spies of Mississippi, rev. 5/10) starts with the creation of Superman and his publisher, DC Comics; a four-page color insert shows the Man of Steel through the years to 2011. The book then leads readers through the rise, fall, and resurgence of the K.K.K. and introduces Stetson Kennedy, a progressive Floridian determined to stymie the hate group. In 1946, in the aftermath of World War II, the producers of the Superman radio show deployed their character's popularity in a campaign against bigotry, using information Kennedy had collected about the Klan -- though not, as he and the Anti-Defamation League claimed shortly afterward, revealing secret passwords. The book thus also shows a historian at work: Bowers explains how he dug through past myths, examined original archives, and reached tentative conclusions about what most likely happened and why. The result is not a simplistic tale of a few heroes banding together to fight evil but a complex history of organizations guided by both ideology and profit, people both well-meaning and flawed, and shifts in popular sentiment. Bibliography, sources, and index. j. l. bell (c) Copyright 2012. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

The Adventures of Superman radio show took on the Ku Klux Klan in an effort to teach young listeners lessons about tolerance and standing up to bigotry. The first episode of the 16-part "Clan of the Fiery Cross" aired on June 10, 1946, to "dramatiz[e] the realities of the Ku Klux Klan to a generation of young radio listeners." From the beginning, Superman had a social conscience, and one thread of this narrative traces the origins of Superman and his rise to stardom as a comic-book and radio hero. The other thread examines the history and mid-20th-century resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. But it's not until late in the volume that the collision between Superman and the KKK occurs, making it seem like a work that isn't quite sure of what it wants to be, or for whom it was written. With sentences such as, "Brown even got inside a secret subunit of the Kavalier Klub that called itself the Ass-Tearers and printed on its calling card the image of a corkscrew--its implement of choice for torturing and disemboweling its victims," this often reads more like journalism than children's literature. A fascinating twin narrative, though not quite the story the title suggests. (bibliography, sources, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

In 1946, with the racism of WWII fresh in people's minds, the powers behind the Superman franchise decided to use the superhero (in his radio incarnation) to take on a growing concern: the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan. How did that happen? Bowers, author of Spies of Mississippi (2010), begins with the story of Superman's creators, two Jewish kids who grew up in Cleveland. In alternating sections, he also follows the evolution of the Klan, from its beginnings after the Civil War to its renaissance, thanks to the keen efforts of a PR team, in the 1920s and beyond. A dual biography of both the hero and the hate group, this book also chronicles the early years of comics, introduces those responsible for Superman's and the Klan's meteoric rise, and discusses how both Superman and the Klan came with values they wanted to impress upon young people. That all makes for plenty of compelling buildup to the radio showdown, which gets a bit lost when finally discussed near the book's end. Great archival photos, but the imageless cover could use a little Superman.--Cooper, Ilene Copyright 2010 Booklist



Jerry Siegel was different from most of the other kids in Glenville. While they were playing ball in the street, shooting hoops at the community center, or shopping on 105th Street, Jerry was holed up in the attic with his precious zines. He also loved to take in the movies at the Crown Theater, just a couple blocks from his house, or at the red- carpeted and balconied Uptown Theatre farther up 105th. Scrunched in his seat with a sack of popcorn in his lap and his eyes fixed on the screen, he marveled as the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks donned a black cape and mask to become the leaping, lunging, sword-wielding Zorro. Jerry admired Fairbanks and all the other leading men--those strong, fearless, valiant he-man characters who took care of the bad guys and took care of the gorgeous women too. Jerry worshipped Clark Gable and Kent Taylor, whose names he would later combine to form Clark Kent.   Jerry usually sat in darkened theaters alone as he absorbed stories, tracked dialogue, and marveled at the characters. After the movies he would walk to the newsstands on St. Claire Avenue to pick up a pulp-fiction novel or a zine. Soaking in every line of narrative and dialogue, he would read the books and magazines cover to cover--then read them again. Turning to his secondhand typewriter, he would dash off letters to the editors, critiquing the stories and suggesting themes for future editions. He would scour the classified sections for the names and addresses of other science fiction fans and send them letters in which he shared his ideas for stories, plots, and characters. For kids like Jerry, science fiction provided a community--a network of fans bound together by a common passion.   One of Jerry's favorite books was Philip Wylie's Gladiator. Initially published in 1930, it was the first science fiction novel to introduce a character with superhuman powers. Jerry moved through the swollen river of words like an Olympian swimmer, devouring the description of the protagonist, Hugo Danner, whose bones and skin were so dense that he was more like steel than flesh, with the strength to hurl giant boulders, the speed to outrun trains, and the leaping ability of a grasshopper. Danner's life is a tortured pursuit of the question of whether to use his powers for good or evil. That made Jerry think about how hard it was to choose right over wrong.   Then there was that unforgettable image of the flying man--the one he had seen on the cover of Amazing Stories. Jerry would hang on to that image for the rest of his life. The flying man, clad in a tight red outfit and wearing a leather pilot's helmet, soared through the sunny sky and smiled down on a futuristic village filled with technological marvels. From the ground, a pretty, smiling girl waved a handkerchief at the airborne man and marveled at his fantastic abilities. In this edition of Amazing Stories Jerry saw a thrilling new world of scientific advances and social harmony-- a perfect green and sunny utopia to be ushered in by creative geniuses with more brains than brawn, more natural imagination than school-injected facts, more good ideas than good looks. Jerry wanted to help create that utopia. Luckily, he had a partner in his quest. Excerpted from Superman versus the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate by Richard Bowers All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.