On this edition of Mic Dispatch, correspondent Aaron Morrison interviews Ron Stallworth, who in the 1970s not only became the first black detective on the Colorado Springs, Colorado, police force — he also managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, the white extremist hate group. Stallworth’s story inspired the upcoming Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman, which opens in theaters Friday.
Next, correspondent Kendall Ciesemier profiles GirlTrek, an organization on a mission to save black women’s lives across the United States. GirlTrek’s solution to combating weight and cardiovascular issues among black women is simple: Every day, members of the group commit to walking for just 30 minutes.
Ron Stallworth, retired detective: “I want to join the Klan because I hate anybody else who isn’t pure Aryan white blood like you and I.” His response was, “You’re just the kind of guy we’re looking for. When can we meet?”
Yoonj Kim, correspondent, Mic Dispatch: I’m Yoonj Kim with Mic Dispatch filling in for [anchor] Natasha [Del Toro]. Do you think a black man could ever be part of the KKK? A Colorado police officer did just that in the late ’70s — and his story is coming out in an upcoming Spike Lee movie called BlacKkKlansman. The movie also incorporates footage from last year’s Charlottesville, Virginia, rally, which makes you wonder: How far have we actually come in race relations? Our correspondent Aaron Morrison has the story.
Stallworth: These guys, in my book, I refer to them as not the brightest light bulbs in the socket. They weren’t. They should have known they were being had. It was very easy to recognize it. But they didn’t.
Morrison (voiceover): In the 1970s, Ron Stallworth became the first African-American detective on the Colorado Springs Police force. And with the help of a white partner, Stallworth infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, the white extremist hate group. The new Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman is based on the real-life events told in Stallworth’s memoir.
[Actor Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Mr. Turrentine in BlacKkKlansman: There’s never been a black cop in this city. We think you might be the man to open things up around here.]
Morrison (voiceover): And the movie’s release comes just days before the anniversary of the deadly alt-right, neo-Nazi rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. So I decided I had to meet the real black Klansman. I wanted to ask him how he fooled the Klan into letting him join their ranks, and what he makes of the persistence of these hate groups years later.
Morrison: Does that threat still exist today?
Stallworth: That threat never goes away, it has never gone away. If anything, under Donald Trump, it’s gotten more common, more everyday.
Morrison (voiceover): Stallworth stumbled into his plan to infiltrate a Colorado Springs chapter of the Klan. He was assigned to the police intelligence unit and came across a KKK newspaper ad. The ad listed a post office box for correspondence.
[Actor J.D. Washington as Stallworth in BlackKklansman: Who am I speaking with?]
[Actor Topher Grace as white supremacist and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke: This is David Duke.]
[Washington as Stallworth: Grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. That David Duke?]
[Grace as Duke: Last time I checked.]
Morrison (voiceover): David Duke, the former grand wizard of the KKK, oversaw the hate group from 1975 to 1979.
Stallworth: I wrote a note to the P.O. box, stupidly signed my real name instead of my undercover name. I got a phone call two weeks later. The local organizer from the Ku Klux Klan was on the other line. So I quickly had to formulate a plan in my mind, and my response was, “I want to join the Klan because I hate n*ggers, sp*cs, ch*nks, Jews, J*ps, and anybody else who isn’t pure Aryan white blood like you and I.” His response was, “You’re just the kind of guy we’re looking for. When can we meet?” Because of the beautiful skin color God blessed me with, I couldn’t meet him. And my plan was to get a white officer who worked undercover narcotics — that I knew well — by the name of Chuck to pose as me.
[Washington as Stallworth in BlacKkKlansman: With the right white man, we can do anything.]
Morrison (voiceover): Stallworth gave Chuck his library card, credit card, social security card — he handed over anything that would help his partner pass as Ron Stallworth. Together, they prevented multiple plans for domestic terrorism by the Colorado Springs Klan chapter.
Stallworth: They were talking about three cross burnings. The act of burning a cross is a domestic act of terrorism. It was deemed as such generations ago. So, they talked about it. They had the capability of it. It never happened. We prevented three cross burnings, which I’m very proud of.
Morrison (voiceover): Stallworth also exposed some Colorado Klansmen as members of the U.S. armed forces.
Morrison (to Stallworth): Did you think you were going to take the Klan down?
Stallworth: No. No. That’s a foolish notion. No one’s going to take the Klan down. What you can do is try to impact it in some way, put a dent in operations, maybe arrest a few people, if the opportunity presents itself.
Morrison (voiceover): I spoke to several members of the BlacKkKlansman cast and to director Spike Lee about Stallworth’s life story.
[Grace at the premiere of BlacKkKlansman: Ron is a total badass.]
Morrison (voiceover): At one point, Stallworth was ironically assigned to David Duke’s security detail at a KKK banquet to celebrate the induction of new members.
Washington as Stallworth in BlacKkKlansman: The inspiration really hit me more on the hardest day on set, which was the banquet scene.
[Grace as Duke in BlacKkKlansman: The true white American race, the backbone from whence came our great southern heritage.]
Washington: That’s when I called him and told him that, “You’re a real hero. I can’t believe you did this.”
Morrison: Do you think you could do what he did today, like infiltrate an alt-right group or something like that?
Washington: No, sir.
Morrison: Why not?
Washington: I’d break. I’d be too emotional. You know, he had — he really kept it under — like, he really did his job. He’s a true professional. He’s really good at what he does.
Morrison: Do you hope to inspire a new Ron Stallworth to come forward and sort of tackle these issues in the same way that he did? Maybe they can’t do it the same exact way.
Spike Lee, director of BlacKkKlansman: There’s no way anybody is infiltrating the Klan, for sure, after this film. It ain’t going to happen.
Morrison (to Stallworth): Do you think David Duke is still thinking about the fact that he was duped by a black man?
Stallworth: I don’t know if he’s thinking about it. He’s aware of it. He did tweet shortly after the first trailer came out, “Stallworth’s a liar.” And if I’m lying, how do you explain the fact that I have these documents and they were signed by you?
Morrison (voiceover): I reached out to Duke, who told me he does not dispute Stallworth’s accounts of their interactions in Stallworth’s book. It’s the movie that Duke has a problem with.
David Duke, white supremacist and former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan: I’ve talked to Ron before, and I respect him as an individual and I think he made an effort to be fair in the book. I think the movie though is much different. The movie itself is nothing but vicious racism and hatred against white people.
Morrison (voiceover): For BlacKkKlansman, Lee intentionally creates parallels between the rhetoric being used in the Trump era with the hate speech among white supremacists in the 1970s.
[Grace as Duke in BlacKkKlansman: Today, we are privileged to be among white men… and white women. I want to thank you so much for never putting your country second. America first.]
Morrison: When you saw what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, I mean — what — how did you feel? What was your reaction to those events?
Stallworth: That didn’t surprise me. Having these idiots march around saying, “Jews will not replace us,” carrying the torches, which is nothing but a symbol of a cross burning. What disgusted me was the idiot imbecile that currently occupies Barack Obama’s old seat — that idiot that now sits in the White House who came out and tried to establish an equivalency between what they were doing with what the protesters were doing and saying — that disgusted me.
[Trump: What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? But you also had people that were very fine people — on both sides.]
Stallworth: When you see these type of groups rear their ugly, nasty, filthy, vile heads, call it for what it is and take whatever appropriate action that you can to put a stop to it. And when you have the opportunity to stamp racist groups out, or individuals, stamp ‘em out. Stamp ’em out.
Kim: So are you gonna check out the film? Let us know after you’ve watched it, and leave a comment down below. We’ve all seen the headlines, from the rise of police brutality to white supremacy. The mistreatment of people of color in America is widespread, which is alarming since there is a studied connection between minority stress and poor health outcomes. Coming up next is a story about a group of black women working to combat both the physical and mental aspects of this racial trauma through something very simple — which may surprise you. Correspondent Kendall Ciesemier will tell us more.
Dixon: When you experience seeing people who look like you shot in the back — babies, children — or when you see chronic unemployment, or when you experience the high cost of health care and the stress of that, there are so many things that I feel like are weighing on us. And for me, walking has become a solution to trauma.
Ciesemier: This is Morgan Dixon, the co-founder of GirlTrek, a national health organization working to empower black women across the country with a surprisingly simple solution: walking.
Dixon: All right, let’s get going.
Ciesemier: Dixon believes there’s a huge problem in America that few people are talking about, and she’s on a mission to start the conversation.
Dixon: Black women are dying faster and at higher rates than any other group from preventable obesity-related diseases, and those women have the names of my aunts and my friends and my community members, and that felt unacceptable.
Ciesemier: Dixon started GirlTrek in 2010. Now, they have nearly 150,000 walkers across the country. They’ve also received praise from the likes of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. But is GirlTrek’s response to the problem in their community really working? I set out to learn more.
Ciesemier: Why did you start GirlTrek?
Dixon: Because I needed it myself, because my best friend and I were just trying to figure out how to avoid the pitfalls that had literally claimed the lives of the women we love. I think I have always known that black women — that we weren’t living our healthiest, most fulfilled lives because labor always felt like something you do for others. My mom was a farmer, her mom was a sharecropper, two generations before that, they were enslaved, and so our physical bodies were not owned by us. And so, we don’t have a cultural tradition of exercising for fun.
Ciesemier: That’s why what GirlTrek is doing is so new. They’re organizing in their communities to make self-care and physical activity the norm. Their theory is that doing this will help address the root cause of the health crisis facing black women: inequality and discrimination.
Stephanie Cook, assistant professor of biostatistics, NYU College of Global Public Health: Discrimination affects health. The research documents this well. Discrimination is associated with more stress, more anxiety, more depression, and we also understand it’s associated with poor physical health outcomes. So according to the American Heart Association, 48.3% of black women over the age of 20 actually have cardiovascular disease and, according to the CDC, about 82% of black women are actually over a healthy body weight.
Ciesemier (voiceover): GirlTrek members walk 30 minutes on their own each day and join community walks weekly in their city. I joined the local New York chapter for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, where I met Carolyn Richardson, a single mother from the Bronx.
Richardson: I have a job, I have a daughter, I come home and cook, I have to do laundry, my daughter’s school goes from 9 to 5, so when she comes home, she’s tired, she doesn’t really want to do homework, so I gotta get on top of her for that. My job is very taxing. There’s a lot going on.
Ciesemier (voiceover): Within minutes of meeting Richardson, it was apparent just how much GirlTrek has changed her life.
Richardson: For years, I was pre-diabetic. I’m no longer in the danger zone. My blood pressure used to be in control by medication. I’m no longer taking that medication. You know, my cholesterol is at a good level. Basically all my numbers are just about right; I just need to maintain and keep going in that direction.
Ciesemier: And now what else do you want to see change in your life?
Richardson: Definitely wanna see the weight loss coming now.
Richardson: I really wanna be more involved in actually bringing people into the movement.
Cook: Walking minutes a day reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, it’s a stress reliever, evens out your cortisol. And that’s why it’s so interesting and important what GirlTrek is doing.
Ciesemier (voiceover): GirlTrek’s founders say they’re not just another fitness program. In an era filled with of-the-moment fitness regimes, fad diets and wellness programs, GirlTrek stands out as more a holistic approach created specifically for their community.
Dixon: It is not a fitness campaign. It is not about skinny jeans. It’s not about any of that. It’s about total healing for my community so that we can be of service and be kind of agents of change for our entire country.
Ciesemier (voiceover): In the short term, GirlTrek’s goal is to recruit 1 million walkers to join their movement. In the longer term, their goals are even more ambitious. They want to change culture and, as a result, improve the lives of the 20 million black women living in America.
Kim: So what do you think of GirlTrek’s solution? Share your thoughts in the comments below. And that’s it for this edition of Mic Dispatch. We’ll see you next Tuesday.
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