Author of ‘Black Klansman’ speaks at Wake Forest
*Photo by Lauren Olinger
Hundreds of people filled Wait Chapel on Feb. 9 to hear former police detective Ron Stallworth speak about how he, an African-American, entered the Ku Klux Klan, gaining intel and foiling a number of hate crimes in the Colorado Springs area.
Stallworth, whose memoir inspired Spike Lee’s blockbuster film BlacKkKlansman, delivered the Black History Month keynote address at Wake Forest University as part of the Journeys to Success speaker series sponsored by the WFU Intercultural Center and Student Union.
“This was a very serious subject, and we were dealing with some very serious people. It began with a newspaper ad that said Ku Klux Klan and a P.O. Box for more information. I responded to the ad, and we were off and running. I recognized the importance of it at the time being a black man and I wasn’t going to let someone tell me that this wasn’t worth pursuing,” Stallworth said. “At the time it was just another investigation, now I understand that people see it as a Civil Rights event of sorts and something as consequential value. I am thankful for that, but at the moment I didn’t see it that way.”
In 1978, Stallworth worked undercover and infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan chapter in Colorado Springs. By recruiting his coworker Chuck to play the “white” Ron Stallworth in person, while speaking as himself to Klan members including the Grand Wizard David Duke, he helped sabotage cross burnings expose white supremacists in the military and combat domestic terrorism.
“We did this for seven and half months over the phone, and they never realized that they were dealing with two different people,” said the Chicago native. “My Sargent would listen to me on the phone pretending to be a white supremacist and would be laughing so hard he’d be gasping for breath.”
Stallworth said that he was blown away that Spike Lee would end up producing a film based on his book. The film brought in a total worldwide gross of $90 million against a production budget of $15 million and has been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards and six Oscars.
“It has been very surreal to recognize that events that I lived 40 years ago and words that I wrote five years ago are now being viewed and heard by millions of people around the world as a result of a Spike Lee movie,” he said. “It’s not anything that I ever imagined. It’s a wonderful experience.”
Stallworth, who resides in El Paso, Texas, said that his story is still relevant in today’s political climate.
“The conversations that I had 40 years ago with David Duke is a lot of the of the things that Donald Trump ran on. It was nothing new to me,” he said. “That’s the scary thing about it. We have a white supremacist in the White House that is dividing this country. Martin Luther King was trying to unite it, and now it’s being divided by a person who should be the chief person trying to unite us in charge.”
In addition to “Black Klansman,” Stallworth is also the author of “Bringing the Noise: Gangster-Reality Rap and the Dynamics of Black Social Revolution” and “Gangsta Code: The Sociological Implications of Gangster Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture.”
Stallworth said that he is working on a sequel.
“It will pick up where this story left off and move it forward towards the end of my career.”
A complete list of Black History Month events, including film screenings, art exhibitions and service opportunities, is available on the Wake Forest Intercultural Center’s website.