Superman: The Black History of The Man of Steel


Ask any child in America to name his or her favorite superheros and their list will most likely have Superman on it. We love Superman and why not, he saves the world, has big muscles, can see through walls and can even fly. He continues to sell out theaters all while still writing for a newspaper, until recently. Who wouldn’t embrace a journalistic crime stopper?
But what is the history of Superman? I have seen so many videos and Youtube clips from Black orators who want to proclaim that everybody under the sun that has any place in history is Black. This is not a post that is going to claim that. I am not even claiming that Superman is Black. I am only claiming that his history is Black and that his genealogy is derived from African American culture.
Most people weather comic book geek or not know something about Superman. What most people do not know is why Superman was created. Superman was created in 1933 by Jerry Sigel and illustrated by Joe Shuster and was first featured in The Reign of Superman, a short story published in the magazine, Science Fiction NO 3. The story was not a hit and actually portrayed the American icon as a villain. 4 Years later Superman was featured in Action Comics #1 and that comic book birthed the comic book industry and is considered the T206 Honus Wagner of the industry. The rest is history, Superman has been on the silver screen, kids underwear, birthday cakes and almost everything else since then.
But that does answer the question why these two Jewish men created a super man that grew to unmatchable fame.
We have to go back in time to understand why these Jewish men needed to have a super man. It was the 1930s and there was no bigger threat to Jewish people than Adolf Hitler. The same year that Hitler was elected chancellor of Nazi Germany, January 30, 1933, was the year that Sigel and Shuster published the first appearance of Superman. It was after this that the two creators decided to make the super villain a super hero. In 1943, Superman went a step further and is pictured with his hands holding up Hitler as the infamous German seems to be confused in defeat in Superman Volume 1 No. 17. In Superman Volume 1 No. 23 he is pictured headed to help America fight the Nazis sticking to the theme of protector of the Jewish people.
But where did the concept of this man come from? He is a strong man, a man of steel, a man that will save his own race but is still for the American dream, we are talking about Superman, right? Not exactly, the original Superman was none other than Black folk hero, John Henry. John Henry is similar to Johnny Appleseed in the rights that he is an American folk hero probably based on someone real. As history has gone on John Henry has been interwoven with tall tales and transformed into the Might Man that Harry Belafonte sang of.
The similarities are more than ironic. John Henry was a man who worked on the railroad and ended up challenging a steam drill to a race to see who was the best at laying railroad tracks. He eventually won the race but his heart stopped and Henry died moments after claiming victory over the machine. He was known as The Steel Driving Man while Superman is known as The Man of Steel.
John Henry was working on the railroads in order to continue to save Black people’s jobs because the machine would put many out to work if proved to be faster than mankind. Superman was created to save Jewish people from the German leader.
In June 1993 DC Comics created a Superhero names John Henry Irons who also wore an S on his chest and donned a red cape on his back. He carried a hammer in his hand, just as John Henry did. His character was created after The Death of Superman storyline.
But this does not mean that these Jewish men ripped off Black culture. They embraced what was always Black and made him their hero. Just as Blacks needed a super man to save them from the Klan in the 1870s, Jewish people needed a super man to save them from The Third Reich in the 1930s. Imitation if flattery. Superman will always be what he always was, a derivative of John Henry.
Picture Credit to Dunechaser.

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About the Author: G Nice