November 15, 2018

‘The Black Klansman’ – 40 years later, former detective encourages students to vote

African American police detective Ron Stallworth spent nine months undercover in the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) from 1978-79. Stallworth said he first became interested in going undercover in the KKK when he saw an ad for the organization in a local Colorado Springs newspaper. Not expecting a response, Stallworth said he wrote a note to the P.O. Box listed in the ad saying he hated everyone who was not white.

“I put the undercover phone line there, mailed the letter off and forgot about it,” Stallworth said, “About a week later, I get a phone call.”

Stallworth said the person on the other end of the phone was the KKK Chapter President for Colorado Springs at the time. During the rest of the investigation, Stallworth said his department helped stop cross burnings and gained intelligence on potential bombings planned by members of the KKK.

On Oct. 12, Stallworth shared his experience with Webster Students in the Grant Gymnasium. Stallworth published a book on his story in 2014, entitled “Black Klansman”, and his story is the basis for Spike Lee’s movie “BlackKkKlansman”.

The KKK is an organization dedicated to promoting a white supremacist agenda. Stallworth spent his time undercover gaining intelligence on the organization while posing as a member over the phone. As for Klan meetings, a white officer in his department posed as him.

Webster University’s Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs sponsored the event. Coordinator Larry Morris said he hopes Stallworth’s story inspires students to stand up for issues in which they believe.

“He took on the Klan, not by himself, but to be able to do that as a black man, it takes a lot of courage,” Morris said, “You still need to be a voice and stand up for what’s right, even if you are the only one first.”

Stallworth said nothing has changed in the 40 years since he went undercover in the KKK. He said he believes, if anything, racial tensions have gotten worse.

Stallworth said he hears President Donald Trump repeat the same phrases Duke told him over his undercover phone calls. By not denouncing the KKK, Stallworth said Trump has given them an outlet to spout hate.

“Nazis are not good people,” Stallworth said. “He has given them cover, provided this shield for them to hide behind. In providing that, they no longer hide. They are out in the open.”

Cheyenne Parker attended Stallworth’s speech after seeing the movie made based on his story. She said she admired Stallworth’s bravery because of the potential harmful consequences he could have suffered if his true identity was revealed.

Parker, a political science major and treasurer of the Association for African American Collegians at Webster, said she felt uncomfortable with the way in which Stallworth worded some of his statements about white supremacy. She said she felt he was coming from a place of anger but felt it was understandable given his experience.

“I try, when talking about those people, to not to show too much hate because it’s just a negative energy to have in your body,” Parker said. “He sounded like he hadn’t moved on from the situation as a whole.”

Morris said America needs to have a conversation about its past. He said until people look at and acknowledge their privilege, the country cannot solve racial tensions.

“If we’re not able to talk about inequality and talk about how this system has not been a benefit to people of color, I think we can’t move forward,” Morris said.

Stallworth said he feels it is important for him to speak to students about his experience because they have the power to change the world for the better. He said the best way for students to accomplish change is by voting.

Parker said she liked Stallworth’s message on the importance of voting. She said the only way to prevent violence is to vote.

“I think that no matter how hard it is, we have to be in those lines, making that change,” Parker said.

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