By Emma Brenner
On Wednesday, Oct. 17, the 32-year law enforcement veteran Sergeant Ron Stallworth spoke at KU’s Schaeffer Auditorium about his book, “Black Klansman: A Memoir.” The memoir highlights his 1978 intelligence operation, in which he led an undercover investigation of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado Springs. The film interpretation “BlacKkKlansman,” directed by Spike Lee, occupied KU’s MSU theaters Oct. 14, 15 and 16.
Stepping inside Schaeffer, tables selling his memoir and advertising the event’s organizer, The Association of Campus Events (ACE), welcomed those who entered. Students, professors and community members filed into the auditorium. Chatter filled the time until over 75 percent of the seats were filled.
At 7:05 p.m., ACE representatives introduced the event and advertised ACE’s involvement before clearing the stage, leaving it bare but for the spotlights illuminating the wooden podium.
Ron Stallworth strode onstage with a wave and a “Hey, y’all,” getting a laugh from the audience as they observed his shirt that boldly read, “Inside a Black Man’s Mind.”
His presentation began with how he joined the force in 1972 at age 19 through the Police Cadet Program. By age 21, he became the first Black detective in Colorado Springs’s Police Department. He encountered racial slurs on a regular basis, but he pointed out, “I didn’t let them get to me.”
Reading the newspaper for the intelligence division in 1978, he discovered a Ku Klux Klan informational ad.
He contacted them, posing as a white supremacist under his real name but providing his undercover phone number. Ken O’Dell, the local KKK leader, eventually called that number and eagerly welcomed then-detective Sgt. Stallworth to attend a Klan meeting.
With resources granted by the police chief, and his white coworker Chuck going undercover in his place, Sgt. Stallworth headed an intelligence investigation in which Chuck played the role of Ron Stallworth’s Klan membership. While no one was arrested during the operation, they prevented three cross burnings and identified two NORAD officers that posed as national security risks to the Pentagon.
When the chief closed the investigation and ordered every report to be destroyed, Sgt. Stallworth saved two notebooks that held evidence that the investigation took place. Those journals are what provided the information for his memoir and groundbreaking film.
Sgt. Stallworth used his memoir’s focus to voice his support for both the police force and Black Lives Matter. “Systematic racism… is all over,” he explained. “What are you gonna do when you encounter it?” During the question session following the presentation, a couple of students challenged his message with the topic of police violence and the systematic targeting of Black Americans.
He answered each question, defending both law enforcement and Black civil rights. He urged students to vote Nov. 6 and left the audience with an ultimatum: “Gotta change the system from within.”
His presentation received a standing ovation. His books sold out, and the line for signings and pictures lasted over a half hour after the event’s conclusion. He and his wife entertained conversations with students, shook hands and smiled for pictures. The presentation left a lasting impression, sparking conversations between professors and students on fighting racism and supporting the Black community.