Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Operation of a Lifetime, by Ron Stallworth

Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth

        In the summer of 1978, Ron Stallworth was an undercover detective working with the narcotics division of the Colorado Springs police department when he came across a Ku Klux Klan recruitment ad in a local newspaper. Part of his job was to collect intelligence concerning possible criminal activity, and the Klan were known to terrorize communities and incite violence, so he responded to the ad with a letter, posing as a fellow racist. A few days later, he received a call from a local Klan organizer eager to recruit him. Stallworth immediately recognized that this was a unique opportunity to collect intelligence on the Klan from the inside and agreed to an in-person meeting. There was just one problem – Stallworth is African-American, and in his haste to seize the moment, he had used his real name instead of an alias.

        What followed was an unorthodox investigation into the heart of one of America’s most notorious hate groups. Stallworth describes the careful process by which he managed to gain access to the Klan’s inner circle through phone conversations and in-person meetings (at which a white colleague wearing a wire posed as “Ron Stallworth”). His actions, decisions, and even missteps and close calls during the case are all discussed with the gravitas and candor of a seasoned police officer.

        This is not to say that Stallworth’s account is dry or impersonal – in fact, quite the opposite. Integral to the story is not just what Stallworth did, but who he was. He takes special care to discuss his background growing up during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Despite never coming across as boastful or vindictive, he deftly expresses the schadenfreude of peeking under the hood of terrorism and finding that the person under it is demonstratively ignorant and clueless – “…as if Dennis the Menace were running a hate group.”      

        Originally published in 2014, Black Klansman has recently been reprinted by a major publisher as a tie-in to the Spike Lee film based on the book. A gripping account of an improbable investigation, Black Klansman is a timely reminder that although hate and ignorance prove frustratingly difficult to eradicate, there are creative and unconventional ways to fight them for those paying attention.

 

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