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.’ “
I recognized that I had done something quite significant. I had penetrated the Ku Klux Klan as a black man. To the best of my knowledge, no one had ever done that before.
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.
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.