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The extraordinary true story and basis for the Academy Award winning film BlacKkKlansman, written and directed by Spike Lee, produced by Jordan Peele, and starring John David Washington and Adam Driver.
When detective Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department, comes across a classified ad in the local paper asking for all those interested in joining the Ku Klux Klan to contact a P.O. box, Detective Stallworth does his job and responds with interest, using his real name while posing as a white man. He figures he’ll receive a few brochures in the mail, maybe even a magazine, and learn more about a growing terrorist threat in his community.
A few weeks later the office phone rings, and the caller asks Ron a question he thought he’d never have to answer, “Would you like to join our cause?” This is 1978, and the KKK is on the rise in the United States. Its Grand Wizard, David Duke, has made a name for himself, appearing on talk shows, and major magazine interviews preaching a “kinder” Klan that wants nothing more than to preserve a heritage, and to restore a nation to its former glory.
Ron answers the caller’s question that night with a yes, launching what is surely one of the most audacious, and incredible undercover investigations in history. Ron recruits his partner Chuck to play the "white" Ron Stallworth, while Stallworth himself conducts all subsequent phone conversations. During the months-long investigation, Stallworth sabotages cross burnings, exposes white supremacists in the military, and even befriends David Duke himself.
Black Klansman is an amazing true story that reads like a crime thriller, and a searing portrait of a divided America and the extraordinary heroes who dare to fight back.
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A CALL FROM THE KLAN
All of this began in October 1978. As an Intelligence Unit detective for the Colorado Springs Police Department, the first black detective in the history of the department, I might add, one of my duties was to scan the two daily newspapers for any reports of information concerning any hint of subversive activity that might have an impact on the welfare and safety of Colorado Springs. It's surprising what some people will put in the paper: prostitution, obvious money schemes, that sort of thing mostly, but every once in a while there's something that really stands out. As I looked over the classified ads, one in particular caught my eye. It read:
Ku Klux Klan For Information Contact P.O. Box 4771 Security, Colorado 80230
Now there was something unusual.
The town of Security was a suburban housing development area located southeast of Colorado Springs near two main military bases: Fort Carson and NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). The community was predominantly military, and there had been no known Klan activity in these parts.
So, I answered the ad.
I wrote a brief note to the P.O. box explaining that I was a white man interested in obtaining information regarding membership in the KKK and furthering the cause of the white race. I wrote that I was concerned with "niggers taking over things," and that I wanted to change that. I signed my real name, Ron Stallworth, gave the undercover phone number, which was an unlisted, untraceable line, and used the undercover address, also untraceable. I placed my note in an envelope and dropped it in the mailbox.
Why did I sign my real name to the note, which would go on to launch one of the most fascinating, and unique, investigations of my career? Like all of our undercover investigators, I maintained two separate undercover identities with the appropriate support identification, driver's licenses, credit cards, etc. So why did I have this lapse in judgment and make such a foolish mistake?
The simple answer is I was not thinking of a future investigation when I mailed the note. I was seeking a reply, expecting it would be in the form of literature such as a pamphlet or brochure of some kind. All in all I did not believe my efforts would have any traction beyond a few mundane auto-mailed responses. I believed this blatant placement of such an inflammatory racist ad was nothing more than a feeble attempt at a prank, and by answering it I would see how far the prank would play itself out.
Two weeks later, on November 1, 1978, the undercover phone line rang. I picked it up, and a voice said, "May I speak to Ron Stallworth?"
"This is he," I said.
"Hi. My name is Ken O'dell. I'm the local organizer of the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK. I received your note in the mail."
Oh hell, where do I go from here? I thought.
"Okay," I said, stalling for time as I grabbed a pen and legal pad.
"I read what you wrote, and I'm wondering why you would like to join our cause?"
Why do I want to join the Klan? A question I truly thought I never would have been asked, and I felt like saying, "Well, I want to get as much information as possible from you, Ken, so I can destroy the Klan and everything it stands for." But I didn't say that. Instead I took a deep breath and thought about what someone wanting to join the Klan would actually say.
I knew from being called a nigger many times in my life, from small confrontations in everyday life that escalated to an ugly rhetoric, to being on the job when I was giving someone a ticket or making an arrest, that when a white person would say that to me, the whole dynamic would change. By saying "nigger" he'd let me know he thought he was inherently better than me. That word was a way of claiming some false power. That is the language of hate, and now, having to pretend to be a white supremacist, I knew to use that language in reverse.
"Well, I hate niggers, Jews, Mexicans, spics, chinks, and anyone else that does not have pure white Aryan blood in their veins," I said, and with those words I knew my undercover investigation had begun.
I continued, "My sister was recently involved with a nigger and every time I think about him putting his filthy 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."
Ken sure warmed up at that point, his voice easing into something sweet and friendly. He identified himself as a Fort Carson soldier who lived in Security with his wife.
"And what exactly does the Klan plan on doing?" I asked, pen at the ready.
"We have a lot of plans. With the Christmas holiday approaching we're planning a 'White Christmas' for needy white families. No niggers need apply," Ken said.
They were seeking monetary donations through the P.O. box, and The Organization, as he referred to it, not the Klan, maintained a bank account under the name of "White People, Org" at a bank in Security.
"We're also planning four cross burnings. To announce our presence. We don't know exactly when yet, but that's what we want to do." My pen paused over my notes as I heard this. Four burnings here in Colorado Springs? Terrorism, plain and simple.
Ken went on to explain that membership in The Organization would cost ten dollars for the remainder of the year, thirty dollars for the next year, and I would have to buy my own hood and robe.
"When can you meet?" he asked.
Shit, I thought, how do I meet this guy? "Ahh, I can't for a week," I said.
"Well then, how about next Thursday night? The Kwik Inn, do you know it?"
"Yes," I replied.
"Seven o'clock. There'll be a tall, skinny, hippie-looking white guy with a Fu Manchu mustache, smoking a cigar outside. He'll meet you, then if it all looks okay, he'll take you to me," said Ken.
"Okay," I said, scribbling furiously in my pad.
"How will we recognize you?" Ken asked.
The same question I had been asking myself since I picked up the phone. How would I, a black cop, go undercover with white supremacists? I immediately thought of Chuck, an undercover narcotics cop I work with who was about my height and build.
"I'm about five foot nine, a hundred eighty pounds. I have dark hair and a beard," I said.
"Okay then. Nice talking to you, Ron. You're just the kind of person we're looking for. Looking forward to meeting you." And with that, the line went dead.
I took a deep breath and thought, What the fuck am I going to do now?CHAPTER 2
JACKIE ROBINSON AND BLACK PANTHERS
Well, what I had to do was start an undercover investigation into the Klan and their plans to grow in my town. I had been working as an undercover investigator for four years, and had headed up many cases, but this one was going to be different, to say the least.
I hadn't grown up wanting to be a cop. In fact, I always wanted to be a high school PE teacher, and the way to put myself through college was to become a cadet for the Colorado Springs Police Department.
I was hired by the city of Colorado Springs on November 13, 1972, as a police cadet at nineteen years old. The cadet program was designed for high school graduates between the ages of seventeen and nineteen who desired a career in law enforcement. Applicants underwent the same battery of tests as regular police candidates and were required to pass them with the same scores because they were, in essence, officers-in-training. Once accepted into the program, the young applicants were paid a beginning salary of $5.25 per hour, far above the minimum wage, which was $1.60. Duties included attendance at the Police Academy in addition to performing civilian support functions within the department, such as processing criminal history records and parking enforcement.
The cadet program had been a part of the police department for approximately four years before I joined. Its specific intent was to try and boost minority recruitment, particularly blacks, into the ranks of law enforcement. In this regard, the program had been a failure because up to the time of my hiring it had never employed any blacks. It had recruited one Puerto Rican and two Mexicans, but all of the program's other hires had been white.
I still clearly recall my job interview. I sat across the table from the assistant chief of police in charge of personnel (a white man), the captain of the uniformed Patrol Division (a white man), and James Woods, who was the personnel manager for the City of Colorado Springs (a black man and civilian employee).
Mr. Woods took a special interest in me. He had an easygoing personality and was quick with a smile, which belied the fire in him to induce change in a system he knew was inherently biased against and prejudicial toward blacks. He had a passion to "fix" that systemic problem and eagerly pointed out the obstacles that I would be confronting.
"You recognize that there are no blacks in this department. This is lily white. You're going to be up against a lot to make yourself a success. These people don't deal with blacks unless they are arresting them. Would you have any problems interacting in an all-white environment?" "No. I've been called names before. I can handle it."
"You know Jackie Robinson?" he asked.
"Well the thing about Jackie is that he was successful because he chose not to fight back. He confronted racism with silence. Think you can do that?"
"Yes, I can." I stared Woods straight in the eye when I said this, my chin held high. I knew who I was. I knew my character. I knew what it was like to be called those names, looked at with suspicion, even hate. I'm not the type to keep my mouth shut when someone gets in my face, but I knew I could pick and choose my moments to do battle.
I was asked a series of questions regarding my background growing up in the Mexican border community of El Paso, Texas; in particular, what was it like being a young black man living in a southern state during the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. When I was growing up in that time period as a black person, El Paso was a very liberal southern city. We did not experience the volume of rhetoric or violence that was occurring in the Deep South against the civil rights movement. What we had was only what we saw in the evening TV news coverage. In that respect, the civil rights movement for me was not something in my backyard. It was a TV show. My own life was a multicultural mix of Mexicans, blacks, whites. There was a big military presence that was diverse. It was its own little corner of the country, which is not to say it was immune from racial intolerance. I was born in Chicago, and my mother's moving our family to El Paso was the best decision she ever made, as the city was a far cry from the poverty, gangs, and conflict in Chicago's South Side, where I would have come of age if she had not left. My entire life would have been different.
The interview continued, and Woods let the others begin to pepper me with questions. My personal lifestyle was heavily questioned: Was I a womanizer? I was not. Did I like to frequent nightclubs? I wasn't very active in that scene. Was I a heavy drinker? I rarely indulged. Did I use drugs? Only drugs prescribed by a doctor. I had never used any illicit drugs such as marijuana, which for someone my age during that cultural time period was virtually unheard of, and I was vigorously challenged regarding my answer. Had I ever been involved in anything that would bring shame to the department? I had not.
As the interview progressed, the questions got more pointed to include the use of the pejorative "nigger," and as to how I would respond to various scenarios if it were used in reference to me by department personnel or citizens during the discharge of my duties as an officer.
Could I hold my tongue and instinct to lash out at those who crossed the line in this regard? What about my loyalty to the department? Being the sole black, once word got out to the black community that I worked for the department, efforts probably would be made to compromise me by appealing to my sense of "community" with my "black brothers." Could I, the interview panel asked, withstand that pull?
Such questions are racist when viewed in hindsight and in the light of today's laws governing employment interviews. This was 1972, barely three years removed from the time when America's major cities were burning as a result of racially fueled riots over the issue of civil rights and equality for America's black citizens. Though a dying breed, the Black Panther Party, with its racially tinged rhetorical slogans of "Black Power," "Kill Whitey," and "Revolution Has Come, Time to Pick Up the Gun," was still a social force to be reckoned with. For a department that had been "lily white" for much of its history and had not experienced blacks except in an extremely negative context, such questioning from their perspective was deemed to be natural and necessary.
I was asked several times if I could withstand the barrage of scrutiny that would come my way — should I get hired — during the one-year probationary period that would immediately follow, without jeopardizing my job by retaliating against my tormentors.
Again and again they asked in one way or another if I could respond in the same fashion as Jackie Robinson, who did not fight back against those who baited him with racial insults and physical assaults during his first year in the big leagues. Could I, they asked, set an example that a black man was just as capable of wearing the uniform of the Colorado Springs Police Department as a white man, and that a man of color deserved to walk among them as an equal?
My answers to their questions were that yes, I could do all that the job asked of me, and would be honored to do it at the same time.
What I didn't tell them was that as a child in the time period when I grew up, the 1960s, we had to literally fight for our self-respect. I was raised by my mother to do just about the opposite of what the CSPD was asking of me. My mother told me that if anyone called me a nigger I had better "knock them in the mouth" and teach them to call us the proper way. As a child I had gotten in three fights with other children who had called me a nigger.
All of those fights resulted in some trouble with school, and I had to speak to my mother about them. She wasn't upset with me, far from it, but she did ask me, "Did you whip their ass?" I always said yes, even though two of those times I was lying to her. I might have been the one who got "whipped," but none of those other kids ever called me a nigger again.
I must have answered their questions to their liking, because I was sworn in as a cadet on November 13, 1972. My first assignment was the far from exciting job of graveyard shift in the Identifications and Records Bureau, filing records and navigating mountains of paperwork. But first I had to receive my uniform.
* * *
My cadet uniform consisted of dark brown slacks and a light brown shirt. That was it. A policeman's uniform was dark blue pants and a royal blue shirt. Both shirts had the Colorado Springs logo, and most important, we were required to wear a policeman's cap.
I reported to the lieutenant in charge of equipment and supply requisition, who was responsible for issuing all newly sworn personnel their uniforms and equipment.
At this time, I wore a small Afro hairstyle and the department did not have experience in dealing with anyone wearing an Afro. This lieutenant measured my head size but did not take into account the amount of hair on the top and sides of my head. He deliberately pressed the measuring tape down as deep as he could to my skin, rendering a false hat size, about one and a half sizes too small. When he gave it to me and I tried it on, I told him it was too small and showed it to him on my head. It literally sat on top of my Afro because I could not pull it down over the side of my head. I looked like one of those cartoon monkeys that wears a hat several sizes too smallwhile amusing a crowd, begging for money while the organ grinder plays music.
"You can either wear this cap, or get a haircut," he said to me, then laughed.
I decided to flip his snarky arrogance back at him by taking the hat without any further challenge.
Department policy stated that whenever a person in the uniformed ranks left the building he or she was required to wear his hat. Beginning the very next day, I started leaving the police department to walk the downtown streets in search of a lunchtime eatery. I would put my one-and-a-half-sizes-too-small hat on the top of my Afro-styled head, hold my head up high, and proudly walk down those city streets in my police cadet uniform, looking like a damn clown, acknowledging, with a tip of my cap and a "How d'you do," the funny looks from the people who stared and pointed their fingers at me.
This went on for about a month until one day the chief of police saw me coming back from one of my lunch breaks.
"Why are you wearing your hat like that?" he asked.
"The lieutenant refused to give me one that fit my head and my hairstyle," I said.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Black Klansman"
Copyright © 2014 Ron Stallworth.
Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. A Call from the Klan,
2. Jackie Robinson and Black Panthers,
3. I'm the Voice, You're the Face,
4. My New Friend David,
5. Fireman and Brimstone,
6. Part of Our Posse,
9. Duke of Colorado,
10. Rocky Mountain Fortress,
11. Up in Smoke,
About the Author,