In 1978 the community of Colorado Springs, Colorado experienced a growth of Ku Klux Klan (KKK) membership. One man dared to challenge their effort and thwart attempts to take over the city, Police Detective Ron Stallworth. He launched an undercover investigation into the Klan, gained membership into the organization, briefly served as Duke's bodyguard, and was eventually asked to be the leader of the Colorado Springs chapter. The irony of this investigation was that Stallworth is… A Black man. In the process he battled internal departmental politics to successfully pull off this "sting." Black Klansman explains how he overcame these obstacles and accomplished this almost unbelievable unique achievement.
Ronell Eugene Stallworth is an American retired police officer who infiltrated the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs in the late 1970s. He was the first African-American police officer and detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department.
The 2018 film BlacKkKlansman is based on his experience infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan.
The best part of the book, the pee your pants, snork your coffee, kick your legs up laughing part of the book was when David Duke came to town and despite protestations to the higher ups, Stallworth (our hero, the black cop) was detailed to protect him. Stallworth asked Duke if he could have a picture taken with him and Duke was ok with that, so Stallworth put an arm around him and Duke freaked and Stallworth was very apologetic. Stallworth then arranged with his no. 2 to take a pic on the count of three, one, two, arm around Duke again, three, pic taken. Duke and Stallworth looking like buddies smiling. What would this do to Duke's White supremacist image with his neo-nazi type fans, followers, future voters and fellow Klan members!
Duke not only freaked he tried to grab the camera but Stallworth got it first. Duke tried to wrestle it from him, whereupon Stallworth told him that would be an assault on a police officer and in that state, 5 years minimum. YAY!
How the Black policeman became a member of the KKK was quite clever. Stallworth ran everything from the phone where the KKK were convinced that all Blacks gave their ignorant selves away by the way they spoke. Stallworth enjoying this, decided to pronounce certain words in a "Black" way as his contact at the KKK was convinced he was White. This was quite amusing. Stallworth had a White officer working for him and he had to be aware of all conversations (which were taped) and every interaction, because the few that were real life were handled by the White officer. The KKK, even David Duke, never knew.
Notes on reading And now for something completely different... Officer Stallworth is talking about his 19 year old policeman self and the sometimes unconscious racism from the other policemen.
He and a white policeman friend are talking about their ideal date, both of them talking of white women they found attractive. The author then mentions Lola Falana who was a popular Las Vegas entertainer. The white officer said he could not relate to Lola Falana as a "beautiful" woman, because he did not know what constituted beauty in a "colored" woman. He said,"I don't know how you people define beauty in a woman." The author, who defines attractiveness as a shapely, sexy woman regardless of colour is dumbfounded that the older officer thought he had no sense of value in terms of a woman's physical attractiveness that was equal to his as a white man. He felt that underneath the kindliness, this white guy was still reflecting an unexamined basic sense of White superiority.
Years ago I wouldn't have known quite what he meant, or at least not so viscerally as I now do. I married into a black family, the top political family, not as some of my 'friends' back in the UK presumed, a poor but handsome black beach bum, a sexy rasta, reflecting their own unconscious racism. And that was the start of it.... Some things are ingrained so deeply it's almost impossible to recognise them let alone rationally examine the irrational racism.
I wanted to like this book. There's a great story here, it's just that it was boring, I didn't quite like the way the author came across, and I had a hard time getting through some parts of this. There were so many abbreviated groups that after a while I stopped caring which group was on what side. I also hated how every so often the author had to remind the reader how he was the one in charge of the investigation by parenthesizing that he was the one the KKK members were talking to, even when some of the conversations were with his partner playing him undercover. He didn't need to keep reminding me that it was him running the show.
The story lacked suspense for me. I never felt fear wondering if Ron and his crew were going to get caught in their lie. I failed to learn more than what I already superficially know about the KKK. I was hoping to learn something here but I don't feel like that was the case.
The pictures included here were as boring as the story. And I don't want to say how "conveniently" that picture of Ron and David Duke disappeared, but I didn't buy that it got lost throughout the years. Such a historic picture, one that you could pass on to your grandkids for its historic importance, and I'm supposed to believe it's not one of your most guarded treasures? Not buying it.
Also wish to know what the KKK thought of being infiltrated by a black man. I'm hoping the movie will be much better.
A fascinating story that made for a medicore storytelling experience. Stallworth could have benefitted from a ghostwriter and a heavy-handed editor. Forty year old petty grievaces against co-workers don't belong in a biography, and neither does repetition after repetition (...) His sidebars and commentary are flat with little to no nuance and description.
Where this book shines (entertains?) is in exposing what a hack many of these hate groups are/were in the 1970s. Advertising their meetings in the newspaper? David Duke answering the national headquarters phone line?
2.5/5, rounded up because of anticipation for the Spike Lee film (which will undoubtedly include better storytelling).
Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth seems so far-fetched that it reads like fiction. But, alas, it is non-fiction. A black police detective from Colorado Springs really did manage to infiltrate the KKK in 1978. It is a fascinating retelling of how this could possibly come about and manages to show the organization's leaders and members for who they really were. Food for thought in the volatile times we are now living in.
This book, more than anything else, is a testament to authors who should hire ghostwriters. If Ron Stallworth did in fact hire a ghostwriter, he should have hired a better one. The premise, a black police officer masquerading as a card carrying member of the KKK via a white undercover surrogate, is fascinating. It is also quickly sanded to almost nothing as we learn that, ultimately, Stallworth's lengthy charade amounted amounted to little more than a funny story and speculation regarding crimes that may have been prevented. He himself admits that the tangible effects of this operation were tenuous at best. This, paired with a narrative that is riddled with repetition and petty grudges with fellow officers that played no role in the investigation itself, make the overall story come across as bragadocious. What could have been a (much shorter) story about boldly and creatively overcoming racism within both professional and societal settings is instead stretched into an ego-stroking recollection that left me wishing I had read the Wikipedia page instead.
See the movie, read the book or both - hopefully you already have done one or the other. If you haven't I encourage you to do so now. It was relevant when it happened, it is more so now. I rarely find the movie as good as or better than the book but both are fantastic.
“Success often lies not in what happens but in what you prevent from happening.”
Here is a case where the movie is guaranteed to be better than the book. No offense to Ron Stallworth, but Spike Lee does words for a living and you, my friend, were a policeman. I’ll catch the film . . . . eventually. Most likely when it hits the overpriced movie channels/subscription services I fork over my hard earned dollars for every month without ever really utilizing them since I am not a big movie watcher and generally choose to read my films (shocker, right?). For now, though? Trust that despite the presentation mainly consisting of . . . . .
And an overabundance of oversharing unimportant details (mainly in the form of initialization), the story of how a black man answered an advertisement and became a (literal) card carrying member of the KKK is most definitely an interesting way to pass the time. As with every memoir, I believe some liberties with the truth have been taken (specifically, pictures or it didn’t happen – “losing” what could be one of the greatest photos of all time doesn’t quite pass the sniff test.)
Well I am absolutely confused as to how a book about such a daringly brilliant undercover police operation could end up being quite a dull read.
When it came down to it, not much actually happened so there wasn't much to write about I guess. I loved that Ron infiltrated the Klan and that they were able to get some valuable information but sadly the stilted writing, less than ideal narration, and lack of intrigue made this just okay for me.
Read like a police report, sort of dry and repetitive....The story is compelling, but a shame he had to wait so long to tell it. Biggest take away - people who belong to hate groups are not very bright.
"The hate-fueled, bigoted, rhetoric and terroristic intent of white supremacist thinkers like David Duke, Fred Wilkens, and Ken O'Dell was in keeping with the long generational arc of the Ku Klux Klan dating back to its founding immediately after the Civil War. We see and hear echoes of that same rhetoric and intent in the political climate of today."
Black Klansman is such an intriguing story. It's a true story about a black undercover cop who infiltrates the local KKK over the phone. A movie is coming out by Jordan Peele & Spike Lee, and I'm really looking forward to it.
It was interesting to see what's changed since the 70s and what hasn't. I know some people think that racism doesn't exist anymore, or it's so much "better" now, but so many of the fucked up things that were said in this book felt familiar to today's shitty American culture. People are still hateful, they're just expressing it a little differently sometimes.
One thing that was so crazy to me was that the KKK members were so driven by hatred that they wanted to talk about it on the phone ALL THE TIME - to the point that Ron was able to build relationships / infiltrate over the phone. All of their other behavior was already weird, and this was just another piece added on to all the strangeness. The members were delusional, sad, cowardly, and afraid, and this book sheds some light on their behavior. There were some cult aspects, and the leaders sort of reminded me of Manson in the way that they were trying to bring about paranoia and panic because of race.
Ron was brave, bold, and amusing. I really enjoyed reading the story from his point of view, and their were some pretty hilarious parts, especially his interactions with David Duke. I appreciate that Ron was willing to tell his story.
Thank you so much to Flatiron Books for sending me a copy of this!
Stallworth's wishy-washy memoir of an uneventful undercover investigation is better suited for a dinner-party anecdote than a published book. I read Stallworth's text because of an interest in Spike Lee's film, but had to put Stallworth's book down because of my objection to its reactionary political orientation. Lee's film is pretty good so I decided to finish the book, but I found myself disappointed.
Make no mistake, Stallworth is a collaborator. In this book, he recounts infiltration and surveillance of anti-racist groups and a hostility to their causes. The possibility of card carrying Klansmen being part of the police as anything other than an undercover operation is something Stallworth completely rejects. Stallworth disrespectfully refers to Kwame Ture as Stokely Carmichael throughout and treats the Klan and the Black Panthers as equivalent organizations.
In Stallworth's afterward, he takes the opportunity to take pot-shots at modern anti-racist and anti-fascist activist organizations and extols the police as the force that is best suited to combat racist violence. What about the police's history of complicity with white supremacy? What about the police's violent murder of unarmed Black men and women? Stallworth barely even acknowledges these self-evident facts.
This book is a both a moral and aesthetic failure. While Spike Lee's adaptation takes many liberties with the story to produce an entertaining, engaging, and modestly thought-provoking film, this source text isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
I’d first heard about Black Klansman after seeing a trailer for the forthcoming Spike Lee movie. I’ve always been interested in the period of American history, so I instantly wanted to see it.
As my local multiplex has delaying the release by a week (possibly because of the Bank Holiday in England?) and then discovering that it’s based on the memoirs of Ron Stallworth, the book instantly jumped to the top of my reading pile.
It tells the story of Stallworth a black police officer in Colorado Springs who infiltrated the ‘KKK’ during the late 1970’s. As Ron responds to an advertisement about joining the group whilst posing as a white man.
As it’s a memoir the writing style does feel slightly police procedural at times but it gave a sense of authenticity throughout. I instantly could hear Ron’s voice from the opening chapter. It’s such a fascinating account, I’m really hoping to catch the movie this weekend!
This was an interesting story. Of course, it was because of Detective Stallworth, as a black man, infiltrating the KKK. But I also found it interesting in hearing his experiences as the first black officer on the Colorado Springs PD at a transitional time in America where black Americans were increasingly breaking previous barriers and moving into jobs historically unavailable to them.
Stallworth’s infiltration was both audacious and clever. The KKK members, other than David Duke , don’t come off as particularly intelligent — their malevolence seemingly cancelled out by their own buffoonery and ineptitude. David Duke comes off as a pompous Fuhrer-wannabe. It’s a fascinating and amusing story throughout.
Although, unlike in film, no arrests resulted, still it’s clear that, given the KKK’s history of intimidation and terrorism, this was a group warranting surveillance. In addition, Stallworth found several members of the military, including those with access to the Top Secret nuclear weapons information in NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain, were found to be part of the Colorado KKK — which clearly was a major security breach, given the KKK’s subversive anti-government views and doctrines. Stallworth’s investigation eliminated this potential vulnerability. In addition, infiltrating the Klan helped keep the public peace because, at the same time , the Police were also doing the same to the PLP, the 70s predecessors to today’s Antifa. By staying apprised of the activities and intentions of both radical groups, the Police were better able to be proactive at heading off conflicts between the groups, keeping the public peace, and, particularly ironically with respect to the KKK, protecting their First Amendment rights.
Having said all this, the book seems to ramble at times a bit, and Stallworth allows his own Democratic partisanship to clumsily smear Republicans and Donald Trump as being racists no different from the ones he investigated, despite providing no facts in support of his opinion. It’s an interesting story to read — interesting and entertaining, but could have been written better than it was in my opinion.
When I saw the book title, I thought it was some sort of information regarding the cult but I got very disappointed after reading it. It was a mere undercover investigation in which Ron Stallworth's name was used.
He did nothing except talking on the phone and yet he presented as if he's done something extraordinary.
It's a dry read and I found myself meandering over course of the book. The whole book comprised of the Colorado chapter and he didn't give the insight of the KKK.
Nearly sixty years ago a white journalist, John Howard Griffin, disguised himself as a black Southerner, and the treatment he received resulted in BLACK LIKE ME. Roughly twenty years later a black Colorado policeman, Ron Stallworth, was on the receiving end of a Klan recruitment push by someone who had never laid eyes on him. Stallworth decided to ride that off pony as long as he could, and the results wound up here in this volume, BLACK KLANSMAN. This heartfelt and achingly real volume about power and racism in the USA makes for compelling reading, and even though it was written by a lawman (not a career journalist), any lack of suavity is more than made up for by narrative intensity and sheer emotional power, qualities Spike Lee must surely have recognized when he made this story into a movie. Time spent reading this rather short, very powerful volume is time well spent.
I was intrigued by Spike Lee’s movie “BlackkKlansman” from the reviews it got this summer, but only when it was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay did I realize it was based on a book. I always like to read the book before seeing the movie, so I immediately ordered it from the library.
I’ve given the book 4 stars, but its author, Ron Stallworth, is a 5 star human being. The story of how he infiltrated and spied on the Klan is astounding in itself, but that was when he was a very young cop. He’s gone on to do other things in other cities, including advising mayors, and is considered an expert in gang culture who educates police about how to approach "gangstas." He’s no longer on the beat himself, but he is an adjunct professor in law enforcement today. If he would run for office, I think he’d win. He’s principled, yet he can laugh at the absurdities of life. He joked as he told this story, and he’d need that sense of humor if he ever ran for office.
The book is mostly fast-paced and not very long. I devoured it in two days. There were a few dull sections, which is why I didn’t give it the full 5 stars, but I will say that the dull parts gave the book a feeling of realism. Real detective work isn’t all the cloak and dagger stuff we watch in the movies. In that sense, reading this book was like reading Argo: How the CIA & Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History, which was also about an unlikely plan that bested some bad guys. That movie was more exciting than the book, but in both cases, I’m glad to have read the real book and gotten to know the down-to-earth voice of the real people who led those operations. And I really like Ron Stallworth. Go check out his interviews. You’re sure to be impressed.
I found this book to be searing. I am reading this book and Between the World and me. I cannot help but interject myself as a character in these two books. As an African American and mother of a son I take the moments 0f benign hatred and violence personally. There are no solutions given. There are no concluding words of comfort. I consider Ron Stallworth courageous for his work in the police force at that time. I consider him a hero for sharing his story. Many have criticized his writing style. I think his stoic "just the facts" style leaves the space for you to have your own emotional response.
This book is important in terms of what is said and not said. Stallworth may not be the most gripping writer in the world - and I don't think he is trying to be - but he tells a story everyone should read.
I saw this available from the library, so I snagged it, as it seems like it would be right up my alley, and I like to read the book before I watch a movie adaptation. A Black cop infiltrating and investigating the KKK? Yes, let's do it. I'm intrigued.
But man, was this painful. I get that Stallworth was a cop, not a writer (or audiobook reader O_O) but dang.
At 187 pages (per GR), this is not a long book. It was published in 2018, not in the 70s when it takes place AND it's not like it was published by some nobody publisher either - it was put out by an imprint of Macmillan.
I'm FAIRLY certain that Macmillan hires editors. Right?
Yet, at 40% into this novella-length book, the reader is assumed to be unclear on the central premise of the story established at the very beginning - which is that he and a white cop will be tag-teaming the investigation, and sharing and coordinating all info: Stallworth via phone, and Chuck whatever his name was in person.
Yet, anytime Stallworth mentioned that someone from the KKK would tell "me" something at an in-person situation, he would clarify that "me" meant Chuck, and vice versa if the conversation was over the phone with "me" (Stallworth).
Because apparently the reader cannot quite grasp the sheer complexity of two people playing one person, and applying situational awareness and context to know which one of those 'actors' would be the appropriate one in the scenario is just real hard.
After about the 10th time of that Chuck/Stallworth clarification, I was over it. The story isn't THAT interesting to me. Not to mention Stallworth does not a great audiobook reader make.
Two stars for the potential to be an interesting story, but that's about as generous as I can be.
I will now see the much lauded Spike Lee film based on this book. The description says it is drama, not comedy, but given Lee's reputation, I would not be surprised if it capitalized on the inherent humor of the situation that gets highlighted in the book. In many ways it's purely farcical!
I don't think it's very well written, not particularly well read by the author, but the story has a certain appeal, of course: In 1978 the first black policeman in the Colorado Springs, Colorado PD skims the local paper and finds an invitation to connect to the local chapter of the KKK. In short, he not only joins it, at the end becomes its leader, though this happens in a unique way. He talks on the phone with the local KKK group and arranges for his white partner to attend meetings. He actually becomes a card-carrying member of the KKK.
Along the way Stallworth becomes "friends" with David Duke, who in the highlight of the book comes to Colorado Springs to lead a KKK rally and Stallworth--a black man, remember--is assigned to be Duke's body guard. Preposterously, he actually manages to get a photograph taken with his arm around Duke's shoulder. The photograph was taken by his white colleague. So you see the crazy elements of farce here.
Not much really happens in the book. In the face of serious threats to our democracy by an increasing number of white hate groups, it is almost quaint to look at the handful of KKK folks in 1978 he documents gathering there. He admits that when he first signed a form to join, he signed HIS OWN NAME, though never got caught. No group seems really professional or well-organized, whether it is his own investigation or "Sting" operation, the KKK itself, David Duke, local anti-racist groups. He admits in his story that the KK locals are laughable, but also everyone protesting are laughable. He and his partner (who ALSO signs his OWN name mistakenly to a form at tone point and is not caught!) do not seem great in their work.
At one point Stallworth tells of a conversation with Duke where Duke says he knows Stallworth is of "pure, aryan descent" from his accent. So this is really a two star book for me except I think it is a bit funnier than the author intended. To his credit, in writing the book in the Trump era, he acknowledges the continued and growing white supremacism in the country, sadly noting that it is not gone away. He mentions some historical civil rights moments that inspired him in his work, too.
I was reminded of Karen Hesse's children's novel about the KKK in a small town in Vermont in 1924, Witness. I also read Black Like Me by John Howard Farrin about a white man who altered his skin chemically to "look black" and traveled the South to see if color alone would lead to different treatment (it did!). I also recall reading the graphic novel of a light-skinned black man who infiltrated the Klan, Incognegro by Mat Johnson.
I haven't seen the movie yet. The book is fascinating. It's a bit odd that it took so long to write and it's quite tragic that it's still relevant. This book (coupled with a few other profiles of read of the klan and white supremacist groups) makes me realize that "they're all a bunch of dumb clowns," as Stallworth overhears. I mean, David Duke is the Grandmaster Clown. It's unbelievable that the man still has any relevance at all.
Stallworth also infiltrates the black power movement. I wish he spent a bit more time on that. I couldn't gauge exactly what he was communicating about meeting Carmichael. Seems like he thought he was charismatic, but that he should be watched? Not sure. It was a complicating factor, which I appreciated.
I saw Spike Lee’s movie ”Blackklansman” which was based on this book and was very impressed by it. I wanted to read the book that the film was based on and it does not disappoint. Mr. Stallworth is a great writer and his time working undercover as a Klansman in the late 70’s is quite an amazing story!
I highly recommend this memoir! And the movie is incredible as well. It doesn’t really matter if you see it before or after reading the book.
Black Klansman Ron Stalworth, isn't it funny how voices in phone conversations, if you act it up well, you can't easily distinguish what ethnic background you might have. Ron Stalworth a newly appointed police detective circa 1970s USA. He bluffed his way into the KKK via new members flyer, one part I found hilarious among many, was when a visiting Klansman chief, arrived in town he was their police escort, and then posing for photos before the camera went click he quickly wrapped his arm around the shoulder of the big guy, the stunned Chief then tried to grapple the camera away, Ron jumps to it and yells I'll arrest you for assault if you lay a finger on me, shucks that takes the prize, just wish that photo hadn't been lost and ended up in the book. Anyway seems it all alludes to deeper mistrust yet again amongst crisis land haterville. Would love to play Balderdash with Ron he'd win hands down mister Super King Bluffer dude. Found the book in a garage sale where a lot of gems can be sought. Ive got to watch the movie marked it down.
With the rise of hate groups and the alt-right these days, this book has become really relevant. The power of this true-life story is that it reveals how buffoonish and small-minded the members of the Klan were when Stallworth infiltrated it in the late 70s. If you take away the fear of the Klan, then it loses its power. It also raises hope in that the anti-Klan demonstrations these days are much more powerful than in the time of this investigation. Overall, it is an easy and fun read. The only downside is that several pieces of information are repeated a few times in the book, so if it gets another edition I would recommend some editing.