Book Review – Black Klansman

Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime | Ron Stallworth

191 pages | 2014

Nonfiction, True Crime, Memoir, History

⭐⭐⭐⭐ Shelf Worthy

From the Back of the Book

“When Ron Stallworth, the first black detective in the history of the Colorado Springs Police Department, came across a classified ad in the local paper asking all those interested in joining the Ku Klux Klan to contact a P.O. box, he did his job and responded with interest, using his real name while posing as a white man.

His decision launched what is surely one of the most audacious and incredible undercover investigations in history. During the months-long investigation, Stallworth sabotaged crossburnings, exposed white supremacists in the military, and even fooled 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.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

I purchased this book at the end of the summer of 2018 because the movie of the same name and plot had just come out. Overall, the story of a black man joining the KKK intrigued me. On the book cover of the book I owned read “infiltrate hate.” I enjoy learning about people going undercover and discovering top secret information to help a cause or solve a crime. I was hoping that this book would include those elements.

This case of undercover work took place in the 1970s when the hate group was attempting to grow membership in Colorado. Unfortunately, the hateful messages that Ron Stallworth uncovered from the past are still present in 2019. While reading Black Klansman over the summer, the tragic mass shooting in El Paso, TX occurred. I was devastated when I learned of the rhetoric and hate that inspired the shooter to kill 22 people and injure 24 others. I took a break from reading the book, but pushed myself to finish it to learn as much as I could from Ron’s experience.

It is a goal of mine to be more transparent about my reading and writing about the books I read this school year. For Reading Bingo, I am claiming the FREE Choice square. I felt that Black Klansman could work for a handful of squares, but thought claiming the FREE Choice will leave options open for potential Reading Bingo’s as the school year progresses.

Review

In my opinion, Black Klansman is shelf worthy. The work that Ron Stallworth did to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan is courageous, creative, and commendable. He took a risk being a black man in the role he was in within the police department to see what he could do regarding the KKK’s rise in Colorado.

There were a ton of acronyms and groups of people/movements in the book, so buckle up in that regard. Stallworth did his best to keep the reader up to speed. Here are a few examples:

  • International Committee Against Racism (INCAR)
  • Committee Against Racism (CAR)
  • Progressive Labor Party (PLP)
  • Colorado College Black Student Union (CCBSU)
  • Black Panthers
  • Black Muslims
  • People for the Betterment of People

It was difficult, for me, to keep all of the groups straight, along with their goals, messages, locations when they were interacting or targeted by the Klan, etc. I felt like I needed a flowchart in the back for reference.

During the second half of the book, Stallworth’s storytelling began to be redundant. He was recalling stories and sharing anecdotes that had already been shared. His flow also began to be choppy. For example, after recalling the initiation ceremony of Ron into the Klan, Stallworth’s timeline began to get jumpy. The paragraphs, within page 129, went in this order January 7th, fast forward to two weeks later, then back to January 8th, and then to January 9th . I had to stop and reread this section to figure out the timeline of events.

Stallworth also has a distinct flashback that was formatted differently than any of his other flashbacks or stories about his past. Usually he would weave these into the text without any interruption. A few of them were hard to follow, like the point above. This one, though, was set up in block quote style with italicized font and was extremely detailed:

“As we drove through the security checkpoint, my mind flashed back to the first time I had ever heard the name NORAD.

It was Christmas Eve, 1963. I was a ten-year-old living in El Paso, Texas, on East Yandell Street, attending Alta Vista Elementary School…My younger brother and I ran outside and began scanning the sky, looking in different directions, hoping to catch sight of that shimmering sleigh and the bright shining red nose of Rudolph...” (159).

Small things like this grind my gears and take away from the story. Why focus on something like this? Why attempt to connect to the reader about Christmas this far into a book about infiltrating the KKK? It did not make sense to me and led me to not give this book a five out of five stars.

Recommendation

I would recommend Black Klansman to people who are interested in undercover operations. Whether you indulge in undercover operations like I do through different forms of media or are fascinated in the inner workings of law enforcement, this book will provide you with those details. The undercover work Ron Stallworth did happened in the 1970s, so the technology and tactics are outdated compared to tactics used today. It is still worth the read to learn about what law enforcement had to do for information and secrecy back then.

People who are looking to combat hateful rhetoric should also read this book. In addition to Ron Stallworth’s journey into the KKK, he also provided the reader with historical information about desegregation in the Colorado Springs police force, the KKK’s founding and beliefs, and Civil Rights movement figure heads. The way he would inform would be subtle yet effective via small tangents that filled the reader in on important information needed to understand the entire picture. They also allowed the reader to connect the dots between the hateful rhetoric from the past and be able to see similarities and differences between then and now.

I haven’t seen the movie version of this text, but I want to now to see how the story transfers to the big screen. Have you seen the movie? Would you recommend it?

Happy Reading!

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