Many true crime fans know Colorado Springs, Colorado as the city where Joe Kenda worked as a detective for over twenty years. His work investigating homicides became the basis of the Investigation Discovery series Homicide Hunter. It turns out this isn’t the only thing the Colorado Springs Police Department is famous for. The city is also where Ron Stallworth, an African-American detective and police officer for Colorado Springs, ran an undercover operation that infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Stallworth’s police work, detailed in his book Black Klansman, was the basis for Spike Lee’s 2018 movie BlacKkKlansman, which won an academy award for best adapted screenplay.
Stallworth’s undercover investigation of the Klan took place in the late seventies. He would talk to Klan members on the phone and white officers would pretend to be him when meeting with the Klan face to face. To say that Stallworth had success infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan would be an understatement. He is eventually asked to run the Colorado Springs chapter of the Klan, which he declines.
One of the strangest twists in the book takes place when Stallworth is told by one of his superiors in the police department that he will be the personal security detail of Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke when Duke makes a visit to Colorado Springs. To get back at Duke, Stallworth has his picture taken with him. To make the whole scenario even stranger, the man snapping the picture is Chuck, the white “undercover officer” Stallworth “placed in the” Klan “whom they all knew as…Ron Stallworth.” The real Ron Stallworth knows that Duke will be deeply troubled by a photograph with him and an African-American floating around.
Stallworth states that what he is most proud of from his work infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan is that “no parent of a black or other minority child…had to explain why an eighteen-foot cross was seen burning at this or that location—especially those individuals from the South who, perhaps as children, had experienced the terrorist act of a Klan cross burning.”
I listened to Black Klansman on audio. The book is read by the author, which gives it a feeling of authenticity—as if Stallworth is sitting across from you telling his truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story. Whether you read Black Klansman, listen to it, or watch the movie, this is a story worth checking out.