Though he retired from the force more than a decade ago, Ron Stallworth still speaks with the directness and clarity of a police officer making a report. His story is sensational — Stallworth became the first African-American detective in Colorado Springs, Colo. in the late 1970s and went on to infiltrate a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, even landing an official certificate of membership signed by grand wizard David Duke before bringing down members.
But when talking to him, or reading his writing about the experience, his answers are straightforward and leave no room for misunderstanding.
Ask which section of his memoir, Black Klansman
, that he wrote first and his answer is "the beginning."
Are there aspects of reliving this time in his life that he finds difficult?
"No," says Stallworth. "I have no trouble speaking about it."
, at the Elsie H. Hillman auditorium, see for yourself as Stallworth speaks about his experience with the KKK and the 2018 Spike Lee film inspired by it, BlacKkKlansman
, which thrust Stallworth's unbelievable story back into the spotlight for new audiences.
Stallworth released the memoir in 2014. It is packed with precision and matter-of-fact prose recollecting absurd scenes from the investigation. Towards the beginning, he recalls a phone call in which he's first asked if he'd like to join the Klan.
"A question I truly thought I never would have been asked, and I felt like saying, 'Well, I want to get as much information as possible from you, Ken, so I can destroy the Klan and everything it stands for.' But I didn’t say that," Stallworth writes. "Instead I took a deep breath and thought about what someone wanting to join the Klan would actually say." (Flatiron Books)
The clash of the absurd story and Stallworth's dry delivery is captivating, and pretty funny. The story requires a decisive low tolerance to nonsense, just to keep the weirdness of the facts straight. He wrote it mostly from memory, then fact-checked his recollection against the files he'd kept from the case. Unsurprisingly, his recall was pretty spot on.
"My memory is very good," says Stallworth. "When I was a cop, I'd write my police reports within a half hour to an hour after the incident occurred, while it was fresh in my memory. My memory of this event is as clear as the day that it happened."
For the film, Lee and the other screenwriters took some creative liberties — the romantic storyline, details about his coworkers and particularly Adam Driver's "Flip Zimmerman" — but Stallworth is good with the changes.
"I'm not naive. I know how Hollywood works," says Stallworth. "I recognize that they always play with stories for dramatic effect and emotional effect. I knew they would do the same thing with my story. All I asked is that they stayed as close to the police profession as possible. Don't make cops look like blithering fools like a lot of stories do. Stay true to the principles we use and worry about doing our job. For the most part, they did. I'm very pleased with the end result."