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Book Review: Black Klansman – Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime

In 1978, a black detective at the Colorado Springs Police Department responded to an ad in the local paper for information on the KKK. The investigation that followed was one the most unique and informative intelligence operations in American history. In this book review, hear Detective Ron Stallworth’s extensive work to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. Learn how the white supremacists who claimed to be superior to all minorities were outsmarted by a single black detective and his fellow officers.

The true story of how the first black detective in Colorado Springs became the first black Klansman of the KKK.


  • Want to hear a true story of good triumphing over evil
  • Are interested in civil rights history
  • Care about police intelligence operations


Although the white supremacists in this true story believed themselves more intelligent than any and all persons of color, a single black man proved them wrong by revealing their foolishness to the world.

Regardless of race or background, like-minded people can work together to create change. For starters, they can bring down the racists who view minorities as less-than, undeserving of respect or humanity.

Book Review: Black Klansman - Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime

A Call From the Klan

In October 1978, Detective Ron Stallworth was scanning the local paper when he noticed a classified ad offering information about the Ku Klux Klan.

Stallworth replied to the ad and requested more information. In his letter, he posed as a white man interesting in joining the KKK.

There had never been any Klan activity in the community before, and Stallworth believed the ad was a prank. Because of this, he signed his real name to the note — a mistake he would later recall as foolish, to say the least.

To his shock, Stallworth received a telephone call two weeks later from Ken O’Dell, the local organizer of the Colorado Springs KKK. The detective pretended to be a white man who hated minorities, claiming he had a vested interest in protecting the white race.

The klansman informed Stallworth that the local chapter had many plans in the works, including four upcoming cross burnings.

O’Dell and Stallworth made plans to meet up the following week. Obviously, Stallworth himself couldn’t attend the meeting. He was going to have to recruit another officer into the investigation.

Jackie Robinson and Black Panthers

Stallworth didn’t always want to be a cop. In fact, he became a cadet for the Colorado Springs Police Department with the sole purpose of using the money to put himself through college.

The program had no black cadets when Stallworth joined, and his interviewers made it clear he would have to approach the situation like Jackie Robinson, who faced racism with silence and peace. Stallworth wasn’t one to back down from a fight, but he also knew how to choose his battles carefully and protect his own well-being.

Stallworth was sworn in in 1972 and began working in the Identifications and Records Bureau. During this time, amid mountains of paperwork, he became familiar with the Narcotics Unit of the department. Stallworth was immediately fascinated by undercover operations.

College was soon forgotten, as Stallworth was determined to one day become a member of the undercover Narcotics Unit.

Stallworth was sworn is as a police officer at the age of 21, two years after he began his journey as a cadet. He was the first black man to do so in Colorado Springs.

After 10 months of patrol, Stallworth got the opportunity he had been hoping for: an undercover assignment. Although he was still a rookie, the department needed an officer to attend an upcoming speech by Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael. A white officer wouldn’t exactly fit in with the crowd.

Thanks to his good work, Stallworth officially joined the Narcotics Unit as an undercover detective three months later.

I’m the Voice, You’re the Face

Stallworth had been an undercover narcotics detective for three years by the time he spoke to Ken O’Dell on the phone. He had initially underestimated the significance of the KKK case, which led to his error of telling O’Dell his actual name. Fortunately, the Klan members weren’t the sharpest and the error didn’t cause any harm.

For obvious reasons, Stallworth needed a different detective to attend the inperson meeting with O’Dell, and he hoped to use Chuck, a fellow undercover officer.

The chief of police readily granted Stallworth the manpower necessary to begin the investigation. Chuck was eager to assist, but wondered how a black cop like Stallworth could infiltrate the KKK.

Stallworth’s plan was simple: He would communicate with the Klan over the phone, while Chuck would perform any in-person meetings. Stallworth would be the voice of the operation, while Chuck would be the face.

My New Friend David

Wired and posing as Ron Stallworth, Chuck met with O’Dell and a few other Klansmen in November 1978. The real Stallworth was in an unmarked van across the street, listening intently to the entire conversation.

The Klansmen each discussed the injustices they felt they had received at the hands of blacks and other minorities. Chuck played his part well, and the men were soon excitedly giving him an application to join the organization.

O’Dell divulged that he had been calling journalists to garner publicity for the Klan. They wanted their presence known in Colorado Springs, and were planning four cross-burnings in the future to make it crystal clear.

Chuck learned that David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, was planning to visit Colorado Springs soon, and the Klan was hoping to have 100 robed members march in the streets to show their support. O’Dell hoped that Chuck would be one of them.

David Duke stood out among other Klansmen because he was articulate and educated. He tried to mainstream the Klan by appearing peaceful and promoting racial separation rather than white elevation, yet he openly admitted that he believed whites were the superior race.

In the days following Chuck’s meeting, Stallworth completed the membership application, including his personal information and a photo of Chuck, and mailed it to the Klan headquarters.

He also responded to an advertisement in one of the Klan pamphlets O’Dell had given to Chuck, and was shocked to be speaking directly to Duke himself. The Grand Wizard responded well to Stallworth’s flattery and expressed his hopes that they would soon meet in person.

The investigation was progressing far better than Stallworth could have hoped.

Fireman and Brimstone

Stallworth began setting the groundwork for expanding his investigation by contacting Fred Wilkens, the state organizer of the Colorado Ku Klux Klan.

Wilkens lived just outside of Denver, and Stallworth hoped that building this relationship would provide an opportunity for an undercover Denver officer to infiltrate the Klan headquarters in Colorado.

Wilkens was an outspoken supporter of racial separation, believing that black Americans were degrading the country and should be separated from the whites. Much to the dismay of his community, Wilkens was also a fireman. There were many complaints to city officials, but the Klansman was always careful to abide by the law.

Much like Duke, Wilkens loved flattery. He was soon a big fan of Stallworth and filled him in on Klan details, including Duke’s impending visit to Colorado, which was set for January 1979. Wilkens talked openly about the Klan’s political goals. They hoped to have Klansmen in all levels of state government.

Meanwhile, Ken O’Dell continued to be in contact with both Chuck and Stallworth through the undercover telephone line, believing that he was speaking to the same man every time. O’Dell continued to express his hopes for having 100 robed Klansmen show their support for Duke’s visit in January.

In December 1978, O’Dell invited Chuck to a meeting at his home. At the meeting, O’Dell announced his strategy for increasing Klan membership, stating that all current members were required to recruit three additional people. The new recruits would, in turn, recruit three of their own, and so on. O’Dell hoped this would provide the 100 Klansmen he desperately wanted by January.

Stallworth realized this was the perfect opportunity to get more undercover officers into the Klan.

Before Chuck departed, O’Dell showed him a list of Klan members in the local chapter. The list included 25 names — a larger number than Chuck and Stallworth had suspected.

The problem was bigger than Stallworth had initially thought, but he was excited by the prospect of expanding his undercover operation.

Part of Our Posse

After O’Dell’s announcement about expanding the organization, Stallworth requested another officer for his undercover team. Jim, who had been helping Stallworth with surveillance already, would play the part of Chuck’s new recruit.

On December 11, O’Dell called Chuck to inform him that the local Posse Comitatus wanted to join forces with the KKK. The Posse was an extremist, right-wing group in Colorado known for violent outbursts, anti-government ideology, and racism.

Chuck took Jim to meet O’Dell and fill out his application for membership. O’Dell quickly accepted Jim due to his trust in Chuck.

He very much liked Chuck, who he believed to be Ron Stallworth, because Chuck and the real Stallworth continually stroked his ego and complimented his leadership skills.

In truth, O’Dell was a downright idiot, but he was perfectly positioned to further their intel.


In the middle of December 1978, Stallworth contacted the Colorado Springs FBI office and requested any and all historical information on the Colorado Klan. He was soon given the chance to look through a top-secret file that contained heaps of information about Klan history, much of which dealt with the Klan’s attempts to infiltrate the government at the state level.

For example, in 1925 many Klan members were part of the House of Representatives in Colorado.

O’Dell and Duke talked of once again becoming a political party, hoping to infiltrate Denver as the capital city of Colorado and create policies beneficial to the white race. O’Dell was very insistent that all Klan members be registered to vote.

Stallworth was now speaking with Duke on the phone every week. A little bit of flattery was all it took before the Grand Wizard was eagerly sharing plans of marches and rallies. Although Duke never used derogatory language in public and adamantly professed to be anti-violent, his conversations with Stallworth told another story.

The detective used the information to warn police departments across America about upcoming marches, allowing them to adequately prepare.

Soon, several other agencies had caught wind of Stallworth’s investigation and were contacting him for specific information. He always made sure to steer his conversations with Duke toward the information these agencies needed.

Despite his claims of superior intelligence, Duke was none the wiser.


On December 20, 1978, Chuck and Jim attended the joint meeting of the Klan and the Posse. The two groups exchanged ideas for promoting their shared cause and recruiting new members.

On January 2, 1979, Stallworth received his KKK membership card. He was the 862nd member of the Klan in Colorado — and certainly the first black one. Stallworth called both O’Dell and Duke to thank them.

O’Dell told him that he would have to attend the upcoming nationalization ceremony, performed by Duke, for everything to be official. He also told Stallworth that there was an upcoming cross-burning on January 11, hoping that Stallworth would take part. The detective planned to send patrol cars to the location and catch O’Dell in the act.

Twelve new members were formally inducted into the Ku Klux Klan by David Duke on January 7, 1979, including undercover police officers Chuck and Jim, as well as a Denver officer.

Days later, O’Dell admitted to Stallworth that he had not been able to gather the 100 KKK members he was hoping for, thus the march in support of Duke had been canceled to avoid embarrassment.

He would, however, be calling the Denver police department to request protection for the Grand Wizard after hearing rumblings of planned anti-Klan demonstrations.

Duke of Colorado

On January 10, 1979, David Duke was scheduled to make several appearances around Colorado Springs. There had been numerous threats against the Grand Wizard, and to Stallworth’s astonishment, the chief of police wanted him to act as Duke’s security detail. The detective feared that his presence would compromise the investigation, but the chief was insistent.

Thus, the real Ron Stallworth would be joining Grand Wizard David Duke on his various appearances to promote white supremacy.

David Duke was cordial to Stallworth at first, thanking him for his commitment to security. Stallworth asked for a photo with Duke, who agreed but became disgusted when the black detective placed his hand on his shoulder.

Duke attempted to destroy the photograph but Stallworth wouldn’t allow it, using his badge to reinforce his control of the situation. After this incident, Duke was furious and refused to acknowledge Stallworth for the rest of the day.

Stallworth didn’t mind. He was amused to have gotten the upper hand on Duke, and was even more amused that neither Duke nor O’Dell recognized his voice after their many phone conversations.

This was especially ironic considering Duke had made the claim, while on the phone with Stallworth, that he could always identify a black man by his voice.

They continually and unknowingly made fools of themselves, much to the private entertainment of Stallworth, Chuck, and Jim.

Rocky Mountain Fortress

Just days after Duke’s visit to Colorado Springs, two military agents paid Stallworth a visit and took him to the North American Aerospace Defence Command, a military complex inside a hollowed-out mountain in Colorado Springs.

The agents introduced Stallworth to a colonel, who wanted to see a list of Klansmen with military ties. After viewing it, the colonel stepped away to make a serious phone call.

Stallworth later learned that two Klansmen worked at the defence command and held top-level clearance statuses. The colonel had called the Pentagon to have them transferred immediately. The agents assured Stallworth that Klan associations would not be tolerated in such high-level, top-secret positions.

Up in Smoke

Stallworth was proud that his investigation led to white supremacists being removed from their high positions in the US military. Meanwhile, he was making headway on local matters as well.

O’Dell called him several times to inform him of local cross-burnings, including the dates, times, and locations for each.

Stallworth increased police patrol presence on the nights of the planned burnings. Later, O’Dell called Stallworth and said the burnings had been canceled due to heavy police presence.

Stallworth was proud to have protected the black citizens of Colorado Springs from the terror, dread, and anger that burning crosses would inevitably incite. He was also proud to have spared black parents the job of explaining the burning crosses to their innocent children.

Stallworth approached the chief of police to discuss expanding his operation. Although he had initially been supportive of the intelligence operation, the chief was now concerned about negative publicity should the story ever reach the public.

He ordered Stallworth to cease all operations, destroy all paperwork pertaining to the investigation, and end any further contact with Duke, O’Dell, and the rest of the Klan.

Stallworth tried to convince the chief to change his mind, to no avail.

But Stallworth couldn’t stand the idea of destroying the evidence he worked so hard to attain, especially considering what the evidence had accomplished for the safety and well-being of Colorado Springs.

Stallworth secretly took the evidence home, and it has remained in his possession ever since. Had this action ever been discovered, Stallworth’s entire career would have been at risk.

But he didn’t care. To Stallworth, it was worth the risk to preserve the memory of one of the most unique undercover investigations in American history.

It was April 1979. Ron Stallworth, the Klansman, had disappeared, and Detective Stallworth’s investigation into the Ku Klux Klan was officially over. But he was proud.

Throughout the investigation, not a single cross was burned in Colorado Springs, and much of the intelligence gathered was used to prevent Klan infiltration into the government.

The very day the investigation was concluded, someone burned a cross outside of a popular black nightclub. No responsibility was ever claimed.


Detective Ron Stallworth continued his work as an undercover officer, eventually working at agencies in Wyoming and Utah. His intelligence reports led to the formation of Salt Lake Area Gang Project, which sought to suppress gang activity in Utah.

Throughout his career in law enforcement, Stallworth received several awards and commendations, including one from the Colorado Springs Police Department for his undercover work.

The Colorado Springs Police Department has come a long way since Stallworth’s cadet interview when he was asked if he could behave quietly, like Jackie Robinson. The department now employs many people of color, who are no longer asked to stay silent in the face of discrimination.

Stallworth conducted many exciting and successful investigations in his career, but none was as unique and rewarding as the Ku Klux Klan undercover operation, wherein Detective Stallworth successfully fooled David Duke and the rest of the KKK into divulging intelligence to a black Klansman.

About the author

Ron Stallworth is a decorated law enforcement veteran and author. His 32-year career included positions related to undercover narcotics, vice, criminal intelligence, and organized crime. He was the first black detective at the Colorado Springs Police Department. In 2018, Stallworth’s account of his undercover investigation of the KKK was adapted into the film BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee. The screenplay won an Oscar.

Ron Stallworth is a thirty-two-year, highly decorated, law enforcement veteran, who worked undercover narcotics, vice, criminal intelligence and organized crime beats in four states. As the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department, Ron overcame fierce racial hostility to achieve a long and distinguished career in law enforcement.

Ron is the author of Black Klansman: A Memoir.


Personal Memoirs, Politics, Social Sciences, Sociology, Law Enforcement Biographies, Discrimination & Racism, History, Biography, True Crime, Race

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Author’s Note,
1. A Call from the Klan,
2. Jackie Robinson and Black Panthers,
3. I’m the Voice, You’re the Face,
4. My New Friend David,
5. Fireman and Brimstone,
6. Part of Our Posse,
7. KKKolorado,
8. Induction,
9. Duke of Colorado,
10. Rocky Mountain Fortress,
11. Up in Smoke,
About the Author,


The extraordinary true story and basis for the Academy Award winning film BlacKkKlansman, written and directed by Spike Lee, produced by Jordan Peele, and starring John David Washington and Adam Driver.

When detective Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department, comes across a classified ad in the local paper asking for all those interested in joining the Ku Klux Klan to contact a P.O. box, Detective Stallworth does his job and responds with interest, using his real name while posing as a white man. He figures he’ll receive a few brochures in the mail, maybe even a magazine, and learn more about a growing terrorist threat in his community.

A few weeks later the office phone rings, and the caller asks Ron a question he thought he’d never have to answer, “Would you like to join our cause?” This is 1978, and the KKK is on the rise in the United States. Its Grand Wizard, David Duke, has made a name for himself, appearing on talk shows, and major magazine interviews preaching a “kinder” Klan that wants nothing more than to preserve a heritage, and to restore a nation to its former glory.

Ron answers the caller’s question that night with a yes, launching what is surely one of the most audacious, and incredible undercover investigations in history. Ron recruits his partner Chuck to play the “white” Ron Stallworth, while Stallworth himself conducts all subsequent phone conversations. During the months-long investigation, Stallworth sabotages cross burnings, exposes white supremacists in the military, and even befriends David Duke himself.

Black Klansman is an amazing true story that reads like a crime thriller, and a searing portrait of a divided America and the extraordinary heroes who dare to fight back.


” A fascinating memoir of an extraordinary inquiry into a recrudescent Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” ― The San Francisco Chronicle

“I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe I had never heard about it. It’s one of these pieces of reality that almost plays like social satire. I was immediately obsessed with this story.” -Jordan Peele in The Hollywood Reporter

“A direct, furious protest against the Trump era.” ― The New York Times

“The astonishing true story of one of the riskiest undercover investigations in American history ― an improbable early-’70s case in which black police detective Ron Stallworth applied for and was ultimately granted membership in the Ku Klux Klan… a compelling black empowerment story.” ― Variety

“A searing look at hate groups from the inside out, as well as a captivating true story that you’ll never forget.” ― Bustle

“Stallworth’s story is so wild you can barely believe it―but certainly not wilder than the virulent resurgence of white supremacy in this country, so extreme it goes beyond the reach of satire.” ― Time Magazine

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All of this began in October 1978. As an Intelligence Unit detective for the Colorado Springs Police Department, the first black detective in the history of the department, I might add, one of my duties was to scan the two daily newspapers for any reports of information concerning any hint of subversive activity that might have an impact on the welfare and safety of Colorado Springs. It’s surprising what some people will put in the paper: prostitution, obvious money schemes, that sort of thing mostly, but every once in a while there’s something that really stands out. As I looked over the classified ads, one in particular caught my eye. It read:

Ku Klux Klan For Information Contact P.O. Box 4771 Security, Colorado 80230

Now there was something unusual.

The town of Security was a suburban housing development area located southeast of Colorado Springs near two main military bases: Fort Carson and NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). The community was predominantly military, and there had been no known Klan activity in these parts.

So, I answered the ad.

I wrote a brief note to the P.O. box explaining that I was a white man interested in obtaining information regarding membership in the KKK and furthering the cause of the white race. I wrote that I was concerned with “niggers taking over things,” and that I wanted to change that. I signed my real name, Ron Stallworth, gave the undercover phone number, which was an unlisted, untraceable line, and used the undercover address, also untraceable. I placed my note in an envelope and dropped it in the mailbox.

Why did I sign my real name to the note, which would go on to launch one of the most fascinating, and unique, investigations of my career? Like all of our undercover investigators, I maintained two separate undercover identities with the appropriate support identification, driver’s licenses, credit cards, etc. So why did I have this lapse in judgment and make such a foolish mistake?

The simple answer is I was not thinking of a future investigation when I mailed the note. I was seeking a reply, expecting it would be in the form of literature such as a pamphlet or brochure of some kind. All in all I did not believe my efforts would have any traction beyond a few mundane auto-mailed responses. I believed this blatant placement of such an inflammatory racist ad was nothing more than a feeble attempt at a prank, and by answering it I would see how far the prank would play itself out.

Two weeks later, on November 1, 1978, the undercover phone line rang. I picked it up, and a voice said, “May I speak to Ron Stallworth?”

“This is he,” I said.

“Hi. My name is Ken O’dell. I’m the local organizer of the Colorado Springs chapter of the KKK. I received your note in the mail.”

Oh hell, where do I go from here? I thought.

“Okay,” I said, stalling for time as I grabbed a pen and legal pad.

“I read what you wrote, and I’m wondering why you would like to join our cause?”

Why do I want to join the Klan? A question I truly thought I never would have been asked, and I felt like saying, “Well, I want to get as much information as possible from you, Ken, so I can destroy the Klan and everything it stands for.” But I didn’t say that. Instead I took a deep breath and thought about what someone wanting to join the Klan would actually say.

I knew from being called a nigger many times in my life, from small confrontations in everyday life that escalated to an ugly rhetoric, to being on the job when I was giving someone a ticket or making an arrest, that when a white person would say that to me, the whole dynamic would change. By saying “nigger” he’d let me know he thought he was inherently better than me. That word was a way of claiming some false power. That is the language of hate, and now, having to pretend to be a white supremacist, I knew to use that language in reverse.

“Well, I hate niggers, Jews, Mexicans, spics, chinks, and anyone else that does not have pure white Aryan blood in their veins,” I said, and with those words I knew my undercover investigation had begun.

I continued, “My sister was recently involved with a nigger and every time I think about him putting his filthy black hands on her pure white body I get disgusted and sick to my stomach. I want to join the Klan so I can stop future abuse of the white race.”

Ken sure warmed up at that point, his voice easing into something sweet and friendly. He identified himself as a Fort Carson soldier who lived in Security with his wife.

“And what exactly does the Klan plan on doing?” I asked, pen at the ready.

“We have a lot of plans. With the Christmas holiday approaching we’re planning a ‘White Christmas’ for needy white families. No niggers need apply,” Ken said.

They were seeking monetary donations through the P.O. box, and The Organization, as he referred to it, not the Klan, maintained a bank account under the name of “White People, Org” at a bank in Security.

“We’re also planning four cross burnings. To announce our presence. We don’t know exactly when yet, but that’s what we want to do.” My pen paused over my notes as I heard this. Four burnings here in Colorado Springs? Terrorism, plain and simple.

Ken went on to explain that membership in The Organization would cost ten dollars for the remainder of the year, thirty dollars for the next year, and I would have to buy my own hood and robe.

“When can you meet?” he asked.

Shit, I thought, how do I meet this guy? “Ahh, I can’t for a week,” I said.

“Well then, how about next Thursday night? The Kwik Inn, do you know it?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Seven o’clock. There’ll be a tall, skinny, hippie-looking white guy with a Fu Manchu mustache, smoking a cigar outside. He’ll meet you, then if it all looks okay, he’ll take you to me,” said Ken.

“Okay,” I said, scribbling furiously in my pad.

“How will we recognize you?” Ken asked.

The same question I had been asking myself since I picked up the phone. How would I, a black cop, go undercover with white supremacists? I immediately thought of Chuck, an undercover narcotics cop I work with who was about my height and build.

“I’m about five foot nine, a hundred eighty pounds. I have dark hair and a beard,” I said.

“Okay then. Nice talking to you, Ron. You’re just the kind of person we’re looking for. Looking forward to meeting you.” And with that, the line went dead.

I took a deep breath and thought, What the fuck am I going to do now?


Well, what I had to do was start an undercover investigation into the Klan and their plans to grow in my town. I had been working as an undercover investigator for four years, and had headed up many cases, but this one was going to be different, to say the least.

I hadn’t grown up wanting to be a cop. In fact, I always wanted to be a high school PE teacher, and the way to put myself through college was to become a cadet for the Colorado Springs Police Department.

I was hired by the city of Colorado Springs on November 13, 1972, as a police cadet at nineteen years old. The cadet program was designed for high school graduates between the ages of seventeen and nineteen who desired a career in law enforcement. Applicants underwent the same battery of tests as regular police candidates and were required to pass them with the same scores because they were, in essence, officers-in-training. Once accepted into the program, the young applicants were paid a beginning salary of $5.25 per hour, far above the minimum wage, which was $1.60. Duties included attendance at the Police Academy in addition to performing civilian support functions within the department, such as processing criminal history records and parking enforcement.

The cadet program had been a part of the police department for approximately four years before I joined. Its specific intent was to try and boost minority recruitment, particularly blacks, into the ranks of law enforcement. In this regard, the program had been a failure because up to the time of my hiring it had never employed any blacks. It had recruited one Puerto Rican and two Mexicans, but all of the program’s other hires had been white.

I still clearly recall my job interview. I sat across the table from the assistant chief of police in charge of personnel (a white man), the captain of the uniformed Patrol Division (a white man), and James Woods, who was the personnel manager for the City of Colorado Springs (a black man and civilian employee).

Mr. Woods took a special interest in me. He had an easygoing personality and was quick with a smile, which belied the fire in him to induce change in a system he knew was inherently biased against and prejudicial toward blacks. He had a passion to “fix” that systemic problem and eagerly pointed out the obstacles that I would be confronting.

“You recognize that there are no blacks in this department. This is lily white. You’re going to be up against a lot to make yourself a success. These people don’t deal with blacks unless they are arresting them. Would you have any problems interacting in an all-white environment?” “No. I’ve been called names before. I can handle it.”

“You know Jackie Robinson?” he asked.


“Well the thing about Jackie is that he was successful because he chose not to fight back. He confronted racism with silence. Think you can do that?”

“Yes, I can.” I stared Woods straight in the eye when I said this, my chin held high. I knew who I was. I knew my character. I knew what it was like to be called those names, looked at with suspicion, even hate. I’m not the type to keep my mouth shut when someone gets in my face, but I knew I could pick and choose my moments to do battle.

I was asked a series of questions regarding my background growing up in the Mexican border community of El Paso, Texas; in particular, what was it like being a young black man living in a southern state during the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. When I was growing up in that time period as a black person, El Paso was a very liberal southern city. We did not experience the volume of rhetoric or violence that was occurring in the Deep South against the civil rights movement. What we had was only what we saw in the evening TV news coverage. In that respect, the civil rights movement for me was not something in my backyard. It was a TV show. My own life was a multicultural mix of Mexicans, blacks, whites. There was a big military presence that was diverse. It was its own little corner of the country, which is not to say it was immune from racial intolerance. I was born in Chicago, and my mother’s moving our family to El Paso was the best decision she ever made, as the city was a far cry from the poverty, gangs, and conflict in Chicago’s South Side, where I would have come of age if she had not left. My entire life would have been different.

The interview continued, and Woods let the others begin to pepper me with questions. My personal lifestyle was heavily questioned: Was I a womanizer? I was not. Did I like to frequent nightclubs? I wasn’t very active in that scene. Was I a heavy drinker? I rarely indulged. Did I use drugs? Only drugs prescribed by a doctor. I had never used any illicit drugs such as marijuana, which for someone my age during that cultural time period was virtually unheard of, and I was vigorously challenged regarding my answer. Had I ever been involved in anything that would bring shame to the department? I had not.

As the interview progressed, the questions got more pointed to include the use of the pejorative “nigger,” and as to how I would respond to various scenarios if it were used in reference to me by department personnel or citizens during the discharge of my duties as an officer.

Could I hold my tongue and instinct to lash out at those who crossed the line in this regard? What about my loyalty to the department? Being the sole black, once word got out to the black community that I worked for the department, efforts probably would be made to compromise me by appealing to my sense of “community” with my “black brothers.” Could I, the interview panel asked, withstand that pull?

Such questions are racist when viewed in hindsight and in the light of today’s laws governing employment interviews. This was 1972, barely three years removed from the time when America’s major cities were burning as a result of racially fueled riots over the issue of civil rights and equality for America’s black citizens. Though a dying breed, the Black Panther Party, with its racially tinged rhetorical slogans of “Black Power,” “Kill Whitey,” and “Revolution Has Come, Time to Pick Up the Gun,” was still a social force to be reckoned with. For a department that had been “lily white” for much of its history and had not experienced blacks except in an extremely negative context, such questioning from their perspective was deemed to be natural and necessary.

I was asked several times if I could withstand the barrage of scrutiny that would come my way — should I get hired — during the one-year probationary period that would immediately follow, without jeopardizing my job by retaliating against my tormentors.

Again and again they asked in one way or another if I could respond in the same fashion as Jackie Robinson, who did not fight back against those who baited him with racial insults and physical assaults during his first year in the big leagues. Could I, they asked, set an example that a black man was just as capable of wearing the uniform of the Colorado Springs Police Department as a white man, and that a man of color deserved to walk among them as an equal?

My answers to their questions were that yes, I could do all that the job asked of me, and would be honored to do it at the same time.

What I didn’t tell them was that as a child in the time period when I grew up, the 1960s, we had to literally fight for our self-respect. I was raised by my mother to do just about the opposite of what the CSPD was asking of me. My mother told me that if anyone called me a nigger I had better “knock them in the mouth” and teach them to call us the proper way. As a child I had gotten in three fights with other children who had called me a nigger.

All of those fights resulted in some trouble with school, and I had to speak to my mother about them. She wasn’t upset with me, far from it, but she did ask me, “Did you whip their ass?” I always said yes, even though two of those times I was lying to her. I might have been the one who got “whipped,” but none of those other kids ever called me a nigger again.

I must have answered their questions to their liking, because I was sworn in as a cadet on November 13, 1972. My first assignment was the far from exciting job of graveyard shift in the Identifications and Records Bureau, filing records and navigating mountains of paperwork. But first I had to receive my uniform.

* * *

My cadet uniform consisted of dark brown slacks and a light brown shirt. That was it. A policeman’s uniform was dark blue pants and a royal blue shirt. Both shirts had the Colorado Springs logo, and most important, we were required to wear a policeman’s cap.

I reported to the lieutenant in charge of equipment and supply requisition, who was responsible for issuing all newly sworn personnel their uniforms and equipment.

At this time, I wore a small Afro hairstyle and the department did not have experience in dealing with anyone wearing an Afro. This lieutenant measured my head size but did not take into account the amount of hair on the top and sides of my head. He deliberately pressed the measuring tape down as deep as he could to my skin, rendering a false hat size, about one and a half sizes too small. When he gave it to me and I tried it on, I told him it was too small and showed it to him on my head. It literally sat on top of my Afro because I could not pull it down over the side of my head. I looked like one of those cartoon monkeys that wears a hat several sizes too smallwhile amusing a crowd, begging for money while the organ grinder plays music.

“You can either wear this cap, or get a haircut,” he said to me, then laughed.

I decided to flip his snarky arrogance back at him by taking the hat without any further challenge.

Department policy stated that whenever a person in the uniformed ranks left the building he or she was required to wear his hat. Beginning the very next day, I started leaving the police department to walk the downtown streets in search of a lunchtime eatery. I would put my one-and-a-half-sizes-too-small hat on the top of my Afro-styled head, hold my head up high, and proudly walk down those city streets in my police cadet uniform, looking like a damn clown, acknowledging, with a tip of my cap and a “How d’you do,” the funny looks from the people who stared and pointed their fingers at me.

This went on for about a month until one day the chief of police saw me coming back from one of my lunch breaks.

“Why are you wearing your hat like that?” he asked.

“The lieutenant refused to give me one that fit my head and my hairstyle,” I said.


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