The Black Klansman
When Ron Stallworth joined the Colorado Springs Cadet Program, a program which was designed to bring more minorities into the department, he had no idea that he — a law enforcement officer and a Black man—would successfully infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.
At age 22, Stallworth became the Colorado Springs Police Department’s youngest, and first African American, Detective and was assigned to the department’s intelligence section of the narcotics unit. In 1978, Stallworth came across an anonymous classified ad for the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan with a P.O. Box, so he sent a letter, posing as a white man looking to gain more information and potential membership. A week after sending the letter, he got a call from the local chapter organizer, who told him that if he wanted to join, he was in—which posed a problem. Stallworth called upon his partner, a fellow Colorado Springs Detective who was white, for help. It was decided that this officer would act as Stallworth for in-person meetings with Klan members, but Stallworth himself would maintain contact with members of the organization over the phone.
Membership card for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan issued to Ron Stallworth in 1979; he still carries it with him today as a memento of his career.
The undercover operation went on for months, during which time Stallworth and his team sabotaged cross burnings, exposed white supremacists in the military who served at the city’s nearby military base with NORAD, and directly combated domestic terrorism in the Colorado Springs area. A highlight of the investigation involved Stallworth speaking to, and ultimately befriending, Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. The two shared nearly weekly calls, and Duke was quoted as mentioning the fictional Stallworth as being a promising recruit.
Stallworth’s investigation only ended when he was offered the position of chapter organizer—and while he was ready to accept and continue the investigation, the chief of the Colorado Springs Police Department intervened. Stallworth believes that despite its rather quiet ending, the success of the investigation lay not with what happened, but what was prevented from happening—including the prevention of bombings and cross burnings.
Stallworth eventually left the Colorado Springs Police Department to assist other police departments around the country in establishing their own undercover gang and vice units—all the while, keeping the story of his KKK investigation under wraps. Upon his retirement from law enforcement in 2005, Stallworth was interviewed by Deseret News reporter Deborah Bulkeley about his career’s most notable cases—of course the KKK investigation came to the top. In 2014, Stallworth finally wrote of his experience infiltrating the Klan in his memoir, appropriately titled The Black Klansman. In 2018, the memoir was adapted into a major motion picture directed by Spike Lee; John David Washington, son of Academy Award Winning Actor, Denzel Washington, plays Stallworth.
Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.
Category: Black History