Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539
Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime (2014) is a memoir and crime thriller by Ron Stallworth, the first black detective of the Colorado Springs Police Department. Stallworth infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970’s and posed as a member for nine months. Stallworth’s...
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Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime (2014) is a memoir and crime thriller by Ron Stallworth, the first black detective of the Colorado Springs Police Department. Stallworth infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970’s and posed as a member for nine months. Stallworth’s story was the basis for the Academy Award winning film BlacKkKlansman, released in 2018. Stallworth’s memoir was re-published in 2018 as Black Klansman; this summary is for the 2018 edition published by Flatiron Books.
After an introduction to his undercover work with the KKK, Stallworth recalls having first aspired to be a P.E. teacher, before becoming a cadet with the Colorado Springs Police Department in order to pay for college. Only a few years after becoming a police officer, Stallworth went undercover to attend a Black Panther Party speech presented by its leader, Stokely Carmichael. This was the beginning of Stallworth’s undercover work, leading to him becoming an undercover detective in the Intelligence Unit.
In 1978, the KKK was on the rise in America. Detective Stallworth comes across a classified ad in a local paper asking for people interested in joining the group to contact a P.O. box. Stallworth feigns interest, using his real name and posing as a white man. Weeks later, Stallworth’s office phone rings, and he is asked by a KKK member if he wants to join their “cause” and become a Klansman. Stallworth's plan is to converse with the KKK over the phone, while Chuck, his partner, is recruited to be his white counterpart for face-to-face interactions.
While Chuck meets with the Colorado Springs KKK chapter as part of the membership process, Ron calls David Duke, the national president and Grand Wizard. Stallworth learns of Duke's plans to visit Colorado and befriends him in order to learn as much as possible about the Grand Wizard and the inner workings of the KKK. As part of Chuck’s membership process, he is required to recruit another member. Jimmy, another detective, and Chuck are initiated by David Duke while he visits Colorado Springs. Chuck is assigned to Duke’s personal security and even tricks him to pose for a picture with another Klansman.
Over the course of nine months, Stallworth prevents multiple cross burnings and acts of terrorism in Colorado Springs before the investigation into the KKK is shut down. The real Stallworth then serves as personal security detail for Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, a Christian minister and Civil Rights leader. Stallworth compares his two experiences working for a Civil Rights leader and the most infamous white supremacist in America’s history.
Stallworth's true story is appalling and incredibly moving, more so because it is relevant to the white supremacy that continues to exists in the United States. The hate speech Stallworth was required to use in his undercover work, that which he despised, is still being used today. His memoir outlines the horrific propaganda tools the KKK uses in order to "professionalize" hate speech, according to David Duke. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) based in the United States continues to categorize the KKK as a subversive terrorist organization. Stallworth's memoir and its associated film are part of the crucial fight against hate groups and racial inequality.