August 25, 2018

Review: Black Klansman: A Memoir

Black Klansman By Ron Stallworth
Available now from Flatiron Books
Purchased copy

One day, a nineteen-year-old guy who wanted to be a PE teacher applied to be a police cadet so that he could get his education paid for. Little did young Ron Stallworth know he would become the first black detective in the Colorado Springs police department, lead a successful intelligence investigation against the Ku Klux Klan, and go on to have a storied career.

BLACK KLANSMAN is the story of Stallworth's investigation into the KKK and various organizations that counterprotested them, especially the local Communist group. Stallworth has an interesting perspective on race relations as a peace officer. He is well aware of racism and other issues within the police. He reports things said to his face that white officers didn't even realize were offensive, and describes what happened when one of his colleagues shot an unarmed kid. At the same time, he believes in the duties of a police officer and in making a difference from the inside.

While the KKK are the villains of the story, Stallworth does not approve of terrorist action against the KKK. His goal in his intelligence investigation is to keep the peace within the community and protect the innocent. This is not a police story where a bunch of people go to jail in the end; however, it is one where no crosses are burned and no gay bars are bombed because of the police who infiltrated the KKK.

It's a compulsively readable story. Stallworth is not an expert writer (he thanks his English teacher at the end for helping him polish his memoir), but he tells what happened in a straightforward fashion. The simplicity helps keep the pages turning. There's suspense, such as the mounting tension in anticipation of David Duke coming to town. There's humor, as KKK members speak to Stallworth on the phone and make it obvious just how clueless they are. There's the horror of how David Duke in his suit and with his good manners made the hate of the KKK more palatable to the masses. The resurgence of the KKK under Duke, during the time period of BLACK KLANSMAN, has a direct line to the explosion of racism and fascist ideals in the US today.

In 2014, BLACK KLANSMAN was released without much fanfare from the small publisher Police and Fire Publishing. In 2018, it has been re-released from a Big Six publisher to coincide with one of the movies of the summer, BlacKkKlansman. I am thankful to Jordan Peele and the other filmmakers who saw the potential in the story of this once buried investigation and brought it to the forefront of the public consciousness. It's a fascinating story, and a reminder that all of us can act against hate.

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