The subtitle of this book, "The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate," led me to believe that this would mostly focus on the time when Superman's writers used him to convince kids that the KKK was bad. And it's definitely about that. But it's also a whole history of how Superman was created, and a history of how the KKK was formed and all the different times when it died down and then reemerged. All in all, it was a thoroughly fascinating book, with so much more history and information than I had expected!
Basically, after WWII, the creative team behind the Superman radio program for kids was looking for a new Big Bad for their hero to battle. Nazis and the other Axis powers had been disposed of, and they needed something new and evil for Superman to take on. They wanted their program to be a little educational too, and to help kids learn to be good citizens and good neighbors.
The KKK had recently resurfaced in many states, fighting primarily against black soldiers who had returned from WWII and were resisting being discriminated against and trodden upon the way they had been before they joined the service. The radio show created a fictional version called the Clan of the Fiery Cross and taught their listeners how bad and evil these men where, men who hated people only because of their religion or race. Bowers writes that this series "showed children -- and adults -- all over the country the deep-seated prejudice that fueled the KKK's mission and the greed for money that motivated its leaders. And the show's use of satire and ridicule set the stage for others to use those weapons against the Klan" (p. 146).
My library had this shelved in the junior non-fiction section, and while I think it would be fine for teens, there was a lot of discussion of KKK activities that involved lynching, burning, branding, and rape, and I personally would not let anyone under the age of 13 read it. So If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13.
Particularly Good Bits:
Our hero's split personality -- that vast gulf between the milque-toast persona of Clark Kent and the supreme confidence of Superman -- represented the full potential inherent in all human beings. It made us feel that we too could shed our day-to-day exteriors to reveal the real hero within" (p. 148).