Six years after resuming as the only black police cadet at the Colorado Springs Police Department in 1978, 25 year old Ron Stallworth was scouting for stories worth investigating in the local newspaper when he stumbled on an ad of the Ku Klux Klan in the area with a P.O. box.
Assigned to investigating disruptive activity, he had first thought the ad bogus, flippantly writing a letter posing as a white man to the address decorated with racial garbles and requesting for more information about the Klan but erroneously signing his real name and an undercover phone number.
In the letter, he elucidated “taking back the country” as one of his reasons for wanting to find out more about the Klan alongside doing something to further the cause of the white race and two weeks later a shocked Stallworth received a call from the local organizer of the clan.
He asked why Stallworth was interested in joining the clan.
Stallworth said, “I hate anyone who does not have pure white Aryan blood in their veins. My sister was recently involved with one and every time I think about him putting his black hands on her pure white body, I get disgusted and sick to my stomach. I want to join the Klan so I can stop future abuse of the white race.”
The local organizer had been very pleased with his reply, he said, “You’re just the kind of person we’ve been looking for. Where can we meet?”
The two fixed a meeting for a week later following the organizer’s brief on the intricacies of the organization. He informed Stallworth that membership would cost $10 for the remainder of the year, $30 for the next year and that he would have to buy his own hood and robe. He notified him of the four cross burning’s the organization was planning across Colorado to declare their presence in the area and then went on to talk about their meeting.
The man’s name was Ken O’Dell, a Fort Carson soldier who lived in Security with his wife. He chose a small diner in Security for their meetup, Kwik Inn from which he said he would transport Stallworth to the actual location where they could extensively converse about his decision to join the Klan.
But Stallworth was a black man of African-American descent, a man who had been apprised by his interview panel at the time of joining the police department that he would not have it easy because of the colour of his skin, that the environment would be hostile and he would essentially be the Jackie Robinson of the precinct, he knew there was no way he could meet Ken and yet wasn’t entirely sure what to do.
When Ken asked for a description of him for easy recognition upon their meet, he essentially described Chuck, a good friend of his who was in the narcotics department where Stallworth had formerly been omitting only the colour of his skin. He sent a formal petition to Chuck’s lieutenant requesting to engage his services for the investigation.
His entreaty was at first refused, the lieutenant upon presented with the details of the case stated that the organizer would be able to tell the disparity in their voices. His sentiments were shared by other members of the department who said he would be able to distinguish between the voice of the black man whom he had spoken with over the phone and the white man who would be meeting him.
In his book, Stallworth writes about this bit; When I asked the question, “What does a Black man talk like,” the response I always got was, “You know…” Some would say that certain things I said sounded “Black,” and when I asked them to give an example they always failed to respond. In other words, they were blinded by mental prejudices and stereotypes about speech patterns of Black Americans of African descent. The handful of people who shared this notion had known and worked with me for six years up to this point in my career.
Eventually however, the lieutenant acting on a formal directive from the chief of the department who instructed that he provide Stallworth with whatever he needed granted Chuck the liberty to play white “Ron Stallworth,” a role which he interpreted so well for the duration of the seven month long investigation.
Photo of a 1989 KKK cross burning in Stone Mountain. Credit: Crossroads.
During the course of the investigation, Stallworth formed a close phone relationship with David Duke who was described as the voice of the Klan in a pamphlet. Duke divulged information about rallies in planned cities, the locations of the Cross burning’s, events which were all averted by the increased presence of Policemen on planned dates.
He told NPR; One thing I learned is that they’re very serious about their objective, their agenda. They truly believe that they, as white people, are inherently superior to blacks, Jews and other minorities. That was part of David Duke’s agenda, to turn the Klan from a racist organization in the eyes of the public into something that is respectable and acceptable.
Close Shave With Sabotage
David Duke, pictured far left at a 1977 KKK rally
At some point, Duke revealed to Stallworth that he was in fact coming to Colorado for a series of publicity interviews geared at new recruitment and in a quite unfavorable turn of events, Stallworth was chosen to be his bodyguard.
He strongly protested against this, it was irrational. He explained to his chief that someone could recognize him and say his name in the crowd, that Duke himself could place his voice as his close phone ally in town and that anything of that sort would sabotage the entire investigation.
But the chief was adamant and upon Duke’s arrival, Stallworth presented himself to him at a lunch as his bodyguard and in the presence of Chuck and Ken O’Dell. He said,”I don’t believe in your philosophy or your political ideology, but I am a professional and I will do everything within my means to ensure your safety while you’re in my city.”
Duke offered him the clan handshake which Stallworth described in an interview with the NPR as, If you shake a person’s hand and you extend your index and middle finger along their wrist and as you’re pumping their hand you start pressing your fingers in their wrist area, it’s the Klan handshake.
Nevertheless Duke never figured out his identity, not even when Stallworth requested they take a photo together then slung his arms around his shoulders, an action to which a previously cordial Duke responded by pushing his arms away from him and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t be seen in a picture with you like that.”
It was not until 2006 that Duke realized what had happened when a newspaper columnist interviewed him about a a black man he had gifted membership 28 years earlier in Colorado springs.
Ending the Investigation
For reasons Stallworth suspects to be fed by trepidation and fret about PR consequences, the Chief ordered the investigation to be shut down about seven months later citing no apparent reason and instructed that Stallworth destroy all reports.
Stallworth closed the investigation but did not destroy the reports, he took them home and has kept them till this day.
Ron Stalloworth Today. Credit: All That’s Interesting.
Now retired, Stallworth lives with his wife in El Pato Texas. A Spike Lee film titled BlacKkKlansman and scheduled for release in August 2018 is based on his story with the Klan which Stallworth believes to still be relevant. He writes; As a result of our combined effort, no parent of a black or other minority child had to explain why an 18-foot cross was seen burning.
In the foreword of his 2014 published book, Stallworth also writes about the framework of the investigation; if one Black man, aided by a bevy of good, decent, dedicated, open and liberal-minded Whites and Jews can succeed in prevailing over a group of White racists by making them look like the ignorant fools they truly were, then imagine what a nation of like-minded individuals could accomplish.
This investigation convinced me that sooner rather than later we WOULD, in fact, OVERCOME those that would try and define minorities by their own personal failings of racial/ethnic bias, bigotry, religious preference, and the false belief that people of color and others who did not fit their definition of “pure Aryan white” were not deserving of respect, much less of being classified as “people.”
Featured Image: From the movie BlacKKKlansman