Image courtesy Ron Stallworth
Ron Stallworth was the first African American police officer and detective hired by the Colorado Springs Police Department. He also holds the distinction of being the only African American “member” of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
Stallworth was born on June 18, 1953, in Chicago, Illinois, but was raised in El Paso, Texas. He graduated from Austin High School in 1971. The family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado in the summer of 1972.
He became a cadet in the Fort Carson, Colorado police department on November 13, 1972.
He became the first African-American member of the Colorado Springs police department and was sworn in on June 18, 1974, his twenty-first birthday.
Ron Stallworth spent two years in uniform before becoming the youngest undercover agent in the department.
He received his first assignment in April 1975 when former Black Panther Party leader Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) came to speak at a local nightclub.
He attended the meeting and spoke briefly with Carmichael afterwards. Stallworth later worked in the intelligence department and in the narcotics division as a detective.
In October of 1978, Stallworth saw an ad in the local Colorado Springs newspaper stating that the Ku Klux Klan was starting a new chapter and looking for members. He subsequently learned that a soldier stationed at nearby Fort Carson placed the ad.
Stallworth sent a letter to the post office box listed and included his office telephone number, but he mistakenly signed his real name to the letter, thinking nothing would come from it.
On November 1, 1978, two weeks after sending the letter, Stallworth received a call and was invited to join the KKK. When asked to come to a meet and greet, Stallworth had to use a white undercover officer to take his place.
While waiting for his application to come through, Stallworth contacted a regional KKK office and spoke directly with David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
On January 10, 1979, Stallworth was assigned to protect David Duke during his visit to Colorado Springs. During the meeting, he asked Duke to take a picture with him because no one would believe that he was Duke’s bodyguard. Just before the photo was captured, Stallworth put his hands on the shoulders of Duke and another Klansman.
Duke tried to take the photo, but Stallworth threatened to charge him with assaulting a police officer.
The investigation KKK lasted nine months and identified many local Klansmen as soldiers, including two who were stationed at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the central facility near Colorado Springs, as well as high-ranking government officials.
When the investigation was closed, Ron Stallworth transferred to the Utah Department of Public Safety, working as an investigator. He retired in 2005 and gave his first interview about infiltrating the KKK. He had kept the story a secret for twenty-seven years.
In 2014, Stallworth wrote Black Klansman about his undercover experience. The film adaption of the book was called BlacKkKlansman. In May 2018, it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in France and won the prestigious Grand Prix Award.
The film was released on August 10, 2018 and won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.
Stallworth currently lives with his second wife, Patsy, in Utah.
Do you find this information helpful? A small donation would help us keep this accessible to all. Forego a bottle of soda and donate its cost to us for the information you just learned, and feel good about helping to make it available to everyone! Nielsen, E. (2018, December 22) Ronald Tobias Stallworth (1953- ). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/stallworth-ronald-tobias-1953/
Ron Stallworth, “Black Klansman; Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime”, (MacMillan Publishers, 2014); Bill Vogrin, “Side Streets: Ex Colorado Springs cop recall his time as black member of Ku Klux Klan”, Gazette.com, (May 21, 2014), https://gazette.com/news/side-streets-good-read-about-a-bad-time-in-colorado/article_1ef58cbe-fcc9-5bbb-b48a-dff121cef1f0.html; Matt Taylor, “The Black Undercover Cop Who Infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado”,Vice.com, (May 20, 2014), https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wd4gym/we-talked-to-the-black-undercover-cop-who-infiltrated-the-kkk-in-colorado.
BlacKkKlansman: The True Story of How Ron Stallworth Infiltrated the K.K.K
When Spike Lee first heard about Ron Stallworth—an African-American detective who infiltrated the Colorado Springs K.K.K. in the late 1970s—the filmmaker couldn’t fathom his story being true.
“I thought they were doing a Dave Chappelle skit again!” Lee has said, referring to the comedian’s 2003 sketch about Clayton Bigsby, the “black white supremacist.
” But Stallworth’s extraordinary 2014 memoir confirms that the most insane events in Lee’s BlacKkKlansman movie did, in fact, happen; in some cases, the truth was even more outlandish than what played out on-screen.
Even as Stallworth was living this case in the late 1970s, the detective had an inkling that he might one day need concrete evidence of his K.K.K. infiltration—a story that seemed too wild to be true.
As such, he brought a Polaroid camera to his face-to-face meeting with David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and requested a group photo.
Otherwise, wrote Stallworth in his memoir, “No one would ever believe that I was pulling this investigation off.”
Ahead, a rundown of Stallworth’s real story—as told by his memoir and a recent phone interview—and which parts of BlacKkKlansman were invented for dramatic effect.
The real Ron Stallworth: He was sworn in as a Colorado Springs police officer on his 21st birthday in 1974, making him the first African-American to graduate from the ranks of the Police Cadet Program. Stallworth was intrigued by the undercover narcotics investigators, and spent his first years peppering them with questions and pitching himself as a worthy undercover cop.
His first undercover assignment was to attend a speech given by Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael.
Stallworth dressed the part—blazer, bell-bottoms, concealed weapon and wire, Afro (about an inch shorter than that of John David Washington, who plays him in the film)—and made a point of meeting Carmichael after the event. As in the film, Carmichael advised Stallworth to “arm yourself and get ready because the revolution is coming.”
To make sure that he approximated the real Stallworth as best as he could, Washington called the former detective “several times, and we exchanged text messages during the course of filming. He had a few questions here and there, which I provided,” Stallworth said. “John David captured the 25-year-old essence of me very well. I’m proud to call him a Stallworth brother.”
Love interest: It turns out that the real Stallworth did meet an attractive young woman at the Carmichael event—but she was German, and Stallworth did not flirt with her for two reasons: he was on the job, and he was already dating the woman who would become his first wife. Patrice, the BlacKkKlansman character played by Laura Harrier, was invented for the movie’s sake.
As for whether he shared details of the investigation with his girlfriend or his family, Stallworth said this: “I didn’t talk about what I was doing, for the most part.”
Establishing contact with the K.K.K.:
Infiltrating Hate: How Colorado Springs’ first black detective joined the KKK — and became the subject of Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”
EL PASO — There’s a reason Ron Stallworth remembers everything in detail: the hate in their voices. Their constant use of racial slurs. The way they described, with heated anticipation, plans to terrorize black and Jewish people in Colorado Springs with cross burnings, marches and threats of violence, even as they sought to put a fresh, mainstream face on their racism.
As the first black detective in Colorado Springs history, Stallworth went undercover with the Ku Klux Klan from October 1978 to April 1979, improbably duping both the local chapter and its young, fast-rising national leader, David Duke, into thinking Stallworth was a racist white man.
Stallworth played the voice in phone conversations with Klan members while his partner showed up in person to Klan meetings in basements and churches around Colorado Springs. Together, they created a fictitious “Ron Stallworth” who ascended the KKK’s ranks, befriending Duke and tracing the Klan’s local infiltration all the way to Fort Carson and NORAD.
Ron Stallworth’s certificate of citizenship in the Ku Klux Klan.
The detail is a product of Stallworth disobeying orders at the time to destroy evidence of his investigation, squirreling away reports from his months pretending to be a man hell-bent on harassing racial minorities in southern Colorado and beyond. The reports proved crucial while writing his 2014 book “Black Klansman.”
“I was just concerned about preserving the physical copies of the investigation, because nobody would ever believe that a black man had pulled this con job off on white supremacists,” said Stallworth, now 65 and living in his Texas hometown of El Paso.
Last month, New York-based Flatiron Books published a revised version of “Black Klansman” in anticipation of the film adaptation from Oscar winners Spike Lee (its director) and producer Jordan Peele.
Releasing nationally Aug. 10, two months before the 40th anniversary of the real-life events, “BlacKkKlansman” (as it’s now stylized) won the Grand Prix award after its Cannes Film Festival debut in May. It also received a six-minute standing ovation there that brought the film’s star — John David Washington, who plays Stallworth and is the son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington — to tears.
“I can’t believe what this man did,” said Washington, 33, who is being hailed for his breakout role in the film alongside Adam Driver, who plays his partner. “The movie has lots of humor, but you’re not laughing because it’s funny. You’re laughing because it’s ridiculous. And true. I attended a historically black college and learned a lot about my history, but I never heard this story.”
“The civil rights movement for me was not something in my backyard. It was a TV show.” — Ron Stallworth in “Black Klansman”
As for the real-life Stallworth, the 32-year law enforcement veteran is haunted by today’s parallels to the racial division of the 1960s and ’70s, which the movie underlines. Stallworth said he hopes the liberties the film takes, from inventing characters and situations to ending on footage of the 2017 Charlottesville, Va., protests, don’t dilute the impact of the true story.
Becoming ‘Black Klansman’: An Interview With Ron Stallworth
By Adam Sennott
In October 1978 Detective Ron Stallworth infiltrated the Colorado Springs’ chapter of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, making him the organization’s first black klansman.
The investigation allowed Stallworth to look behind the curtain as notorious white supremacist David Duke attempted to rebrand the Klan by talking about heritage instead of hate.
But behind the scenes Duke and other white supremacists spewed racial epithets, planned cross burnings, and talked about arming klansmen with rifles “in order to shoot wetbacks walking across the Rio Grande” border, Stallworth said.
Stallworth, who detailed his undercover efforts in his 2014 memoir BlacKkKlansman, was able to help prevent several cross burnings the group had planned for the area, and unmasked two klansmen who had top security level status at NORAD. While the Klan did not take root in Colorado Springs, Duke’s brand of white nationalism went mainstream in the decades that followed, Stallworth said.
“It’s the norm now for white supremacists to claim their views in a political guise, and that political guise is in synch with that of conservative Republicans,” Stallworth said. “The two are united and one gives cover to the other.”
Stallworth was 19 years old when he joined the Colorado Springs’ Police Department in 1972 and became their first Black police cadet, according to his book. He began his investigative career by infiltrating a speech given by Black Panther’s leader Stokely Carmichael.
Three months later he became the department’s first black undercover narcotics detective. It was a path that led him to notice an ad that the Klan was looking to establish itself in Colorado Springs.
He decided to respond.
“I was an intelligence detective,” Stallworth said. “Monitoring subversive groups was part of my job, and the Klan is a subversive group, so I simply did my job.”
Stallworth, who used his real name when he responded to the ad, said he thought he would only receive literature, pamphlets, or a copy of the Klan newspaper in response. Instead, he received a phone call from the head of the chapter, and the investigation began.
For more than seven months Stallworth pretended to be a white supremacist and spoke with the chapter leader and other Klan members over the phone, while a white detective met with them in person.
Despite the complexities of the investigations, Stallworth said he was never concerned that the Klan members would discover that there were two Ron Stallworths.
“I was a trained undercover cop,” Stallworth said. “We don’t get nervous, we do our job.”
He called the operation a “typical police investigation.”
“I had no agenda in mind when I started in investigation,” Stallworth said. “We weren’t hoping to do anything other than to gather the information that was out there on the KKK and its impact on Colorado Springs.”
When the Klan invited him to participate in two of the cross burnings it was planning, Stallworth said he alerted police dispatch so the area would be saturated if they followed through with their plans.
“Cross burnings are a domestic act of terrorism” that would have “unnerved the community,” Stallworth said. “Cross burnings always unnerve a community. That’s been the history of it.”
- The added police presence did the trick, Stallworth said.
- “They chickened out as a result of that,” Stallworth said.
- Along with foiling the cross burnings, Stallworth also reached out to the Klan’s national hotline, and said he was surprised when Duke answered the phone.
- “The first phone call, when he picked it up, I was surprised because it was supposed to be a recorded message,” Stallworth said.
- Stallworth said that Duke was “very pleasant on the phone, [and] a very nice conversationalist, but he couldn’t go five minutes, if that long, without talking about race and genetic superiority of whites over minorities.
“On the phone he revealed himself,” Stallworth said. “In public he concealed a lot.”
Duke also wasn’t afraid to spew racial epitaphs in private either, Stallworth said.
“In private he threw the word nigger around all the time in talking to me,” Stallworth said. “In public he never used it at all.”
The two eventually met when Duke visited Colorado Springs and Stallworth was assigned to protect him. During his visit, Stallworth asked if they could take a photo together. As the polaroid was taken, Stallworth quickly threw his arm around Duke.