How a folklorist used Superman to dismantle the Klan
To fight a post-war resurgence of the Klan, a folklorist infiltrated them and released their secrets in Superman radio serials.
Our story begins with an intrepid young folklorist and activist from Florida named Stetson Kennedy. He noticed that the Klan was experiencing a resurgence—as an example, a few weeks after V-J Day, the Klan burned a 300-foot cross on the face of Stone Mountain near Atlanta (!)—one Klansman later said that the gesture was intended “to let the n*ggers know the war is over and that the Klan is back on the market.”
The fiercely committed Kennedy decided to infiltrate the group and expose its secrets. He was quite successful in this—for example, he learned that when a traveling Klan member wanted to find other Klansmen in an unfamiliar part of the country, he would ask for a “Mr. Ayak”—“Ayak” standing for “Are You a Klansman?” The desired response was “Yes, and I also know a Mr. Akai”—“A Klansman Am I.”
When he took his information to the local authorities, he found, much to his surprise, little inclination to act on his findings: The Klan had become powerful enough that even the police were hesitant to take action against it.
Eventually he realized that he needed a different approach. In the 1940s, Superman was a radio sensation—children all over the country were following his exploits ravenously. Kennedy decided to approach the makers of the radio serial to see if they would be interested in an epic “Superman vs. the Klan” plotline. He learned that they were interested in such a thing.
. . .