Thursday, July 25, 2013

John Lewis Goes to Comic-Con and Superman Fights the KKK With the Help of Stetson Kennedy

We are in the fourth day of our fundraiser here on We Are Respectable Negroes. I appreciate the kind donations. If you can do please throw some change into the donation bucket if you can. Your support makes me smile. 
For the ghetto nerds and others similarly inclined.

I made three interrelated discoveries this week that I would like to share.

We have conquered our little part of the world when Representative John Lewis goes to Comic-Con in San Diego and does a panel on his graphic novel about the Civil Rights Movement. Graphic novels and comic books are now literature. There are so many stories to tell for which "stories with pictures"--that are really so much more--are a perfect fit.

Comic books (and their characters) have taken on socially relevant and political topics in the past. Maus being among the most notable, and one of the first to be taken seriously as "real" literature.

Maus was a seminal depiction of how the "banality of evil" impacted one family during and after The Holocaust. The most iconic character in the history of comic books, Superman, who is not coincidentally a "Jewish" brother, confronted racial fascists at home when he took on the KKK in the 1940's radio serial "Clan of The Fiery Cross".

Given that I am not a huge fan of Superman, nor am I a comic book historian or old school hobbyist, but the idea that comic books would be part of the national push-back against the KKK after World War 2, what was at its peak an organization with millions of members (including congressmen, senators, and at least one United States President) and the largest terrorist organization in the country's history, was a revelation.

The use of Superman for political ends makes perfect sense. Comic books, because of their accessible format and the power of visual story-telling, are an especially useful propaganda and educational tool.

Using Superman in this way was not without risk.

Fighting the KKK, the creators and writers of Superman were inserting themselves and their character into matters of life and death against an organization which historically proved itself more than willing to kill anyone in its way.

Central to Superman's struggle against the KKK, was a real life activist, author, and superhero named Stetson Kennedy. He spent several years infiltrating the KKK and developed a list of its members, secret code words, and rituals with the goal of bringing the hate group down. I never knew about this white brother until reading about his efforts to get the creators of the Superman radio show to use his findings and research for the storyline.

On Stetson's book "The Klan Unmasked":
lt was back in 1947 that Drew Person (Jack Anderson's predecessor) dubbed Kennedy "the nation's No. 1 Klan-buster." 
Using inside data supplied by Kennedy, Person broadcast coast to-coast every Sunday "the Minutes oft Klan's Last Meeting," including the roll call naming the names of-sheriffs, police chieftains, public officials and businessmen who had been in attendance. "They never showed up again," Kennedy still chuckles, some 60 years after the event.

"Attendance and recruitment hit rock bottom, and, best of all, Klan violence ground to a halt, he recalls. "They were afraid to move a muscle.

Grand Dragon Sam Green put out an all-klavems bulletin, announcing that "Kennedy's ass is worth $1,000 per pound, FOB Atlanta.

At the time, a rank-and-file Kluxer complained bitterly, 'Kennedy's got more on the Klan than the Klan has on itself.”
In the battle against white supremacy and Jim and Jane Crow there were so many heroes who did things quietly, in day-to-day ways, and also from the shadows. Most of them will remain forgotten and unacknowledged except by a small group of people who knew of their exploits. Stetson Kennedy was one such person.

The ugly ghosts of the past are still with us in post civil rights America. But people like Stetson Kennedy fought (and died) so that those voices would be marginalized and mocked. Despite the yearnings of the Tea Party GOP and bigots such as Ted Nugent, formal American Apartheid is dead; thanks to the Black and Brown Freedom Struggle(s) it has been permanently put in the refuse pile of historical anachronisms.

Superman's help would have been nice. But, the civil rights movements showed us that regular folks are the real superheroes in American life.


RtRDH said...

Hey Chauncey. Loved this post! The video you linked about John Lewis, the audio is not working, on your site or youtube.

Vic78 said...

They were superheroes. It's time for us to finish the job.

chauncey devega said...

weird working here and there now. odd.

chauncey devega said...

We all can't be Black Panther. What can we do on the day-to-day?

Vic78 said...

T'Challa was bad. Our people don't have the seriousness required to get it done as of right now. All we can do is the best we can with the resources available. On an individual level, a person has to get the money right. On a group level, it's a little more difficult. Back in the day everyone didn't march or join the NOI. The same dynamic's at play today. I believe there's a critical mass that wants to get something done.

One thing that would help is to stop shitting on foreigners. What I mean is to accept Black folks from other countries as Black folks. It's not really sensible to alienate someone because there's no slave lineage. The cops will unload on them in this country and not care about their country of origin.

As for politics, it's got to more than voting for the president every four years. It's time to send some of them packing(David Bing). Putting some money into campaigns is always a viable option.

There aren't simple answers, but we do have options.

Vic78 said...

I wish I had an answer for the self hate. I'd prefer a non religious solution to that issue.

Wavenstein said...

I always learn something new here everyday brother Chauncey. I wonder how many similar untold stories of bravery and heroism are out there waiting to be told?

chauncey devega said...

I don't know. Too many to count I reason. Any to share?

JW said...

I met Kennedy's widow about a year ago now. I work at USF library in Special Collections and we have a small collection of his materials. I didn't know it was her until she mentioned her husband had infiltrated the Klan, and I mentioned the Superman radio show, to which she responded "Yeah that was him". Though he is credited with infiltrating the KKK, there are some doubts he was actually the one who did the infiltration, and instead had another insider passing information to him. Not that that undermines anything the Superman radio show accomplished with his knowledge of the Klan, but it was, as far as I can remember, the only time he ever did that kind of journalism. He also was never able to finish writing his memoirs due to horrendous writer's block, even when he fabricated some details of his life. This is all just some inside speculation my boss passed on to me, but I just thought it'd be good to pass on.

chauncey devega said...

Great story. I heard that he did most of what he reported, but may have had confederates whose stories he collapsed into his own. So be it. I just hope that the latter get their just dues as well.

You know I like my heroes a bit flawed and complicated. It makes them more relateable. What other cool finds did you come across in your work?

JW said...

Well right now we're going through the University archives and keeping an eye out for anything on the John's Committee, which was Florida's version of McCarthyism. So allegations of homosexuality among professors, memos on how speakers Communist or other contentious issues like Free Love, Fascism, and Birth Control, had to be balanced out by democratic views, that sort of thing.