A ‘Black Klansman’ on King’s turf

AMES — When the questions came flying, the real fireworks began.

Though Ron Stallworth’s story occurred more than 40 years ago, it never feels more important than it does today.

Let’s be honest: Racism, unfortunately, is still alive. A voice — a reasonable and charismatic one, at that — is a breath of fresh air, no matter where it comes from.

Stallworth, author of “Black Klansman,” a book that inspired the Academy Award-nominated Spike Lee film “BlacKkKlansman,” is a man who risked his life to wreak havoc within the KKK. We need him today.

What stuck out from his speaking engagement Jan. 24 on Iowa State University’s campus was not Stallworth’s confidence — he’s not lacking in that area whatsoever — but his ability to humanize issues at hand and bring a comical side to them. It was refreshing in such a stuffy political climate.

Stallworth is not an in-your-face, side-with-me-at-all-costs type of guy. He’s charismatic, passionate and extremely likable. He’s drawn a clear line, and if you cross it, you better be prepared to spar.

Stallworth opened his recent event inside the Iowa State Memorial Union poking fun at the six Academy Award nominations for “BlacKkKlansman,” joking that he expected at least four going in.

About 650 people took in Stallworth’s mostly biographical speech, sprinkled with his own philosophies and beliefs.

Due to his life story as an undercover African-American detective who not only infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan but became a full-fledged member in the 1970s, Stallworth obviously is concerned with the state of America today as well. His biggest issue stands with the alternative political outfits forming throughout the country.

“Don’t sleep on white supremacist groups,” Stallworth said. “They all think the same. We need to stomp them out, and we can start by — stop electing Steve King.”

Stallworth took his fair share of shots at U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, a man who’s been in the news as of late — and for years — for remarks many decry as racist. Stallworth was in the heart of King’s district in Ames as he said there’s not much difference today from when he was infiltrating the most notorious hate group, the KKK, back in the ’70s.

“Let me ask you this: Why is Steve King still in office? How has he been re-elected so many times?” Stallworth said. “Because there are people out there who think and believe like he does. Some of you may be in this room, I don’t know.

“My point is, how did he get to the position he is in? How do we get that fool in the White House? To me, 62 million people pissed on themselves when they decided to vote for him.”

Stallworth called for King’s and President Donald Trump’s removal, fed up with their day-to-day operations. No longer should Americans hide behind ballots and turn the other cheek, he said.

“We empower racist, white supremacists like these two when we say nothing,” Stallworth said. “And when they run for office and we give them our vote, we are endorsing them. If you want to make a difference in America, you have to remove people like that from politics.”

Stallworth witnessed the worst of America some 40 years ago, spending hours speaking with the “Grand Wizard” himself, KKK leader David Duke, about Klan ideologies. And most of his discoveries were covered up or thrown to the side, which is why he chose to tell his story.

Ironically, Duke, after being duped by Stallworth for seven months by phone, called the former detective after watching “BlacKkKlansman” and had an hour-long conversation with him.

Duke said that he liked the movie — but he’s not a white supremacist.

Stallworth’s words hung in the air as he navigated his way through the young crowd, captivating them with his stories.

What I took away most, being in the profession I am, relying on words and how I string them together to paint a picture, was one of Stallworth’s final remarks — a statement that really hit home and that we all should take into account. When asked if he felt he was ever in danger, either during his undercover KKK operation or after, he quickly replied. 

“I don’t fear for my life,” Stallworth said. “The only weapon I carry was our ability to communicate.”

Let that sink in for a moment, just like Martin Luther King Jr. preached so many years ago.

Violence and prejudice should not be our motivation.

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