With news of Spike Lee’s latest film BlackKklansman getting a six-minute standing ovation at Cannes Film Festival, we’re excited to see what should be the continuation of a groundbreaking year for Black filmmakers.
The film is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, a Black undercover cop who successfully infiltrated a local Colorado chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. Here are some facts about the real-life hero you should know.
1 He Knew He Wanted To Be an Undercover Cop
Stallworth told VICE that he immediately knew as soon as he became a cadet that he wanted to be an undercover cop. The reason why? He didn’t want to wear a uniform.
2 He Was The First Black Detective in His Department
In the 1970s the cadet program he joined was designed to boost minority hiring in the department, particularly for Black employment. He was one of two Black cadets.
“This was the environment I existed in to pave a path for future generations,” he said in a 2014 interview with VICE. “Did it change anything, by the way? I can tell you right now that the manager in that department is black, and a friend of mine. There’s also a female lieutenant among 43 total officers who are black.”
His First Undercover Mission Was at a Stokely Carmichael Speaking Engagement
When his department found out that Carmichael was coming into town to speak at a local nightclub, they were worried about his rhetoric. They knew Stallworth was interested in doing undercover work so this was his perfect opportunity to blend in seamlessly with the crowd.
“That was my brief moment with a living piece of Black history,” he recounted.
He Forgot to Not Use His Real Name in His Initial Investigation of the KKK chapter
After seeing an ad in the paper that said Ku Klux Klan, he wrote a letter and responded to the ad spewing hate to do an investigation — but forgot to replace his own name with one of his undercover names.
This lead to him sending a white undercover narcotics officer in as himself to meet with the KKK chapter. They conducted the investigation for seven months.
The Investigation Was Shut Down When He Was Nominated To Start His Own Chapter
When Stallworth was nominated to become the new local organizer for Colorado Springs and won by a unanimous vote, the chief panicked immediately and shut down the investigation.
With that, Stallworth was forced to change the undercover phone line and pack up his notebooks with all of the reports.
He Doesn’t Believe Race Issues Have Changed
In a 2006 interview for NPR, Stallworth was asked what he learned about race from the experience.
“Let me put it this way, it hasn’t changed,” he said. “To me, race is the single most divisive factor affecting American society. It’s an issue that we are afraid of, that we shy away from; and quite frankly, it amuses me that we are so sensitive to the issue.”