Thomasville Times Enterprise

Community News Network

May 22, 2014

Meet the black officer who went undercover as a KKK member

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

Retired police Sgt. Ron Stallworth's story - about how he, a black undercover Colorado cop, infiltrated one of the nation's most notorious hate groups in 1978 - is one such truth. Stallworth, 61, recently released the book "Black Klansman," detailing his amazing story during his early years of service.

"I was sitting in my office reading the newspaper," Stallworth, who now lives in Utah, said. "I was going through the classified section, and on this particular day there was an ad that said 'Ku Klux Klan.'"

It listed a post office box to send inquiries, and so he wrote a letter, identifying himself as a white man and peppering the note with racial slurs. The undercover officer, who was still in his 20s at the time, did make one crucial mistake, however: He signed the letter with his real name. He wasn't too worried, though, since he figured the whole setup was probably a joke.

It wasn't until he got a phone call a week later from the local KKK organizer about starting a Colorado Springs chapter that he realized how serious the ad was.

Stallworth told the man that his sister was dating a "n--ger," and how mad it made him. The organizer liked his story and figured that Stallworth was exactly what the new chapter needed. He asked to meet-which was obviously a problem. But the quick-thinking officer gave a description of one of his close friends, who worked in the narcotics division, and organized a meeting for the following week.

Stallworth's friend Chuck would play "the white Ron Stallworth."

"The funny thing is that Chuck's voice [was] totally distinctive [from] mine," Stallworth said. He was only questioned about the different voices once - and he successfully blamed the flub on a sinus infection.

There was only one other time when Stallworth's cover was almost blown: after his supervisor assigned him to be then-Grand Wizard David Duke's bodyguard.

"[Duke] was planning a publicity blitz in Colorado Springs. He was coming into town to do interviews and try to drum up interest," Stallworth said. "I got assigned to be his bodyguard because there were death threats against him."

At the time, Stallworth was having fairly regular phone conversations with at least three Klansmen, including David Duke. "I was apprehensive that they would recognize my voice," the retired officer said.

Stallworth remembered how seemingly amiable Duke was. He was likable enough and intelligent, a great orator, and never used slurs about black people or wore his robe. The Grand Wizard even shook Stallworth's hand and thanked him.

3"He was changing the face of the whole Ku Klux Klan," Stallworth said, describing Duke as the type of man a girl would love to take home to her mother.

One moment between the two almost went south, however, when Stallworth had someone take a photo of him with Duke and the Grand Dragon, even putting his arm around both men. It obviously upset Duke, who tried to snatch the camera. Stallworth and Duke faced off. "If you touch me," Stallworth said to the Grand Wizard, "I'll arrest you for assaulting a police officer, and that's worth five years in prison."

Stallworth recalled, "I was thinking about all our forefathers and foremothers who [were] dealing with racists like this throughout the generations, who lacked power, who lacked authority, who were at the mercy of idiots like this and could do nothing to stop it because of the power of the Klan," he said pointedly. "But on this particular occasion, I had the power, I was the authority and the Klan was at my mercy."

Duke eventually backed down and walked away. As Stallworth put it, he was the supremacist's greatest fear: "a n----- with a gun."

Stallworth's life has never really been stereotypically "normal"; his Klan infiltration epitomized his unusual approach to life.

At just 19 years old, he moved from Texas to Colorado Springs, joining the police force via a cadet program designed to bring more minorities into the department. He was the first black cadet to enter the program. At 22 he became the first black detective, the youngest in the history of the department, he said.

Meanwhile, he was just trying to save up enough money so that he could go to college to get a degree and become a physical education teacher. However, in the end, Stallworth was having too much fun as an officer, and he also realized he'd be making way more money than he would as a teacher.

One of his first undercover assignments was to look into Black Panther activist Stokely Carmichael. His supervisors told him to blend in and listen to Carmichael's speech and then report anything interesting.

 "It was my first brush with living black history," Stallworth says. "He was a fiery, bombastic speaker. He had a special way of speaking, and he could fire up a crowd like nobody's business."

Stallworth's Klan investigation ended after about seven months because he was so good at his job that "the local organizer had the idea that they needed someone who was a resident of Colorado Springs to assume the duties," he says. "They took a vote at one of their meetings, and by unanimous vote they had determined that they wanted Ron Stallworth to become the new local organizer because he was a 'loyal and dedicated Klansman.' "

Stallworth wanted to go for it, but the higher-ups weren't as thrilled. "The chief panicked and said, 'I want you to shut this investigation down now. I want you to stop sending Chuck to meetings, stop answering the undercover phone line. I want the undercover phone line changed, and I want Ron Stallworth the Klansman to disappear.' "

The chief also ordered Stallworth to destroy all reports from the investigation. Stallworth tried to argue against closing down the operation, but his efforts were in vain.

What Stallworth didn't do, however, was destroy all the reports.

"I took the notebooks ... and I walked out of the office with them under my arm and put them in the car. I drove home with them, and they've remained with me over the past 35 years, and that's what I based my book on.

"For one thing, I recognized that I had done something quite significant. I had penetrated the Ku Klux Klan as a black man," he continued. "To the best of my knowledge, no one had ever done that before. I have a membership card that I carry in my wallet that identifies me as a member of the [Klan]; I have a certificate of membership signed by Duke, certifying me as a member of his [Klan]; and if I had destroyed the information ... if I had told the story after that, nobody would ever have believed [me] ... because there was no evidence."

It is believed that during Stallworth's stint with the Klan, he prevented at least three cross burnings from occurring by upping security in those neighborhoods whenever the Klan invited him on one of their excursions.

The same day the chief told him to stop the investigation, the phone that he used for undercover work rang again and again, but Stallworth obeyed orders and didn't answer.

 "That very night, a cross burned in front of the nightclub where Carmichael had spoken three years earlier," he said. Stallworth believes the phone call was one of his "Klan buddies" inviting him to a burning.

     

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 30, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

Business Marquee
House Ads
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
AP Video
Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction Malaysian PM: Stop Fighting in Ukraine Cantor Warns of Instability, Terror in Farewell Ravens' Ray Rice: 'I Made a Huge Mistake' Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Poll

Does it bother you that the Thomasville-Thomas County Central football game won't be played for at least the next two years?

Yes
No
     View Results
Video
Sports Pulse
Must Read
Must Read