Black Officer, White Robe: A New Film Recounts One of the Most Ironic Infiltrations of All Time.

AuthorForman, Bill

Even in its leanest years, the Ku Klux Klan was never so hard up for members that it reached out to blacks--at least not intentionally. And yet it managed to attract at least one.

In 1975, the year that Ron Stall-worth became the Colorado Springs Police Department's first black undercover detective, Klan membership nationally had dwindled to a paltry 6,500 members, down from three million from the group's apex in 1925, according to a report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In a state where, a half century earlier, the Klan's membership included Denver's five-term mayor, the governor, and several other state officials, the white supremacist group had fallen so far below the radar that it was commonly assumed to be nothing more than a haunting memory

Stallworth, who now lives in El Paso, Texas, says in an interview that he shared that assumption. Back in 1978, when he stumbled across a small classified ad ("Ku Klux Klan, For Information Contact, P.O. Box 4771, Security, CO, 80230"), he never guessed it would lead him to become the Klan's first, and presumably only, black member. Through phone conversations and a body double, Stallworth was able to rise through the ranks of the KKK and gain the trust of its members and leaders, including Grand Wizard David Duke.

Stallworth's stranger-than-fiction story is now the subject of Spike Lee's new film, BlacKkKlansman. The director's first biopic since 1992's Malcolm X, which starred Denzel Washington as the controversial black leader, casts Denzel's son John David Washington as Stallworth.

Set for an August 10 release, the film from Focus Features is based on Stall-worth's eponymous autobiography, which he originally wrote in 2014 for Police and Fire Publishing, a small South Carolina-based company specializing in criminal law enforcement books. Earlier this summer, the book was revised and republished as a "soon to be a major motion picture" release by Flatiron Books.

The film comes with all the encumbrances of movie adaptations, including the obligatory composite characters and the addition of scenes, both comic and dramatic, that are noticeably absent from the book.

"Yes to all of that," Stallworth acknowledges. "I wanted the story to be kept as truthful and honest as possible to what I had written, but I recognized that Hollywood is going to play with things for the purpose of making a movie, and you have no say in that. But I didn't worry about it. I got the story out in the open...

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