The 1940s Justice Society Of America Were A Surprisingly Progressive Bunch

A few weeks back we learned that Wonder Woman’s background role as the secretary of the Justice Society in the 1940s wasn’t some sort of patriarchal, sexist scheme.  Instead, it was actually about William Moulton Marston wanting complete control of his character.  Today we’ll gain an even better appreciation for the people behind All-Star Comics.  Not only were they not sexist jerks, there were also some really impressive messages of tolerance in the book.

All-Star Comics #22 begins with Dr. Midnite strolling to the Justice Society headquarters when he comes across some ruffians beating up another boy.  He asks them what their problem is, and then straightens them out after they explain:

For the rest of the issue, various members of the Justice Society get sent through time to fight prejudice in various historical eras.  They all return to the present, keen to teach others the importance of understanding your fellow man.  The entire Justice Society goes to a local school to spread their message and tell the kids that bullying others because they’re different is anti-American, and they all say the Pledge of Allegiance together:

SIDENOTE: You may have noticed that the phrase “under God” wasn’t included.  That’s because it wasn’t part of the original pledge.  It was added in the 1950s when everyone was all fired up about the godless commies, around the same time America put “In God we trust” on their money and legislated other religion-based empty gestures.  So if someone ever tries to point to “under God” as an example that America is a supposedly Christian nation, show them this issue of All-Star Comics!!  Separation of church and state, ya’ll!!

Anyway, after the school says the Pledge of Allegiance, Wonder Woman pops up with this impressively open-minded aside:

“Regardless of RACE, COLOR, or RELIGION!” is a pretty huge thing to say in 1944.  I mean, Catholic/Protestant was still a big divide, as evidenced by the beginning of this comic, much less hot button issues like race!!  It’s fitting that Wonder Woman is the one to point out the inclusionary nature of “liberty and justice for all”, seeing as equality and fairness were common themes in her own comics, and it’s nice to see them echoed in All-Star Comics as well, what with its different creative team.  Marston was a hardcore feminist, but Gardner Fox had some progressive ideas too!!

Then in ­All-Star Comics #27, we learn about another group that we need to treat fairly.  Covering race and religion wasn’t enough… the Justice Society is also all about helping people who are physically disabled:

The issue ended with the Justice Society writing a pledge that disabled individuals aren’t to be shunned or pitied but rather should be treated equally.  The pledge page also showed a series of physically disabled people who accomplished great things:

The Justice Society was REALLY into equality.  Regardless of your color, religion, or physical disability, the Justice Society had your back and considered you a friend.  It was an impressively progressive message for the early 1940s, and one I was surprised to find.  There’s a lot of bad stuff in Golden Age comics, and it’s really cool to see such positive messages.  It’s no wonder that the new Justice Society in Earth 2 has a gay Green Lantern… the team’s been tolerant and open-minded for ages!!


Published by Tim Hanley

Tim Hanley is a comic book historian and the author of Wonder Woman Unbound, Investigating Lois Lane, The Many Lives of Catwoman, and Betty and Veronica: The Leading Ladies of Riverdale.

13 thoughts on “The 1940s Justice Society Of America Were A Surprisingly Progressive Bunch

    1. Very true. Golden Age comics weren’t great at including black people, and when they did it often turned very racist very quickly. However, the inclusion of “race” and “color” in this message of equality is still pretty remarkable for the time. Sadly, it would be a couple of decades before black people were a regular part of superhero comics.

      I recently wrote a piece on depictions of race in Wonder Woman comics for the Los Angeles Review of Books that you might be interested in:

  1. I like the article, except for one thing. The use of “In god we trust” on our money has been pretty much a standard for all money since the 1870’s. The first place that you see it is on the 1878 Morgan silver dollar, at least that I can find right away. But yes you are right about the “pledge”. The movement for the words “under god” started in about 1948, with the change permanently adopted on Flag Day in 1954. The leader of this movement was Louis A. Bowman, an attorney from Illinois, who wanted to honor Abe Lincoln by using those words which were in a phrase from the Gettysburg Address. The phrase was ‘that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.’ So it started out for truly good reasons, but got hijacked during the commie frenzy of the late 40’s and early 50’s. Anyway, too much history makes my head swim. Nice article though!

    1. I was thinking of bills when I wrote this, and I don’t think they had “in god we trust” on them until the 1950s, but you’re absolutely right about the coins. The coins go back a while, though still a century after America was founded, interestingly.

    2. Almost true, Mark. “In God We Trust” was on US coinage alone until 1957, when it was added to paper money. Note also that the phrase wasn’t on US currency for 100 years after founding of the Nation.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I am 79 years old and I remember when the words were added, particularly to the pledge of allegiance. I would like to point out that the last war in which all of America sacrificed and took losses and self-denials, was the last war we actually WON. It was won WITHOUT the “under God,” inclusion, or should I say exclusion of all those of other faiths than Jewish or Christian, and I’m not too sure if the Jewish was included in that intent of that particular “God.””

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