OGDEN — The original Black Klansman is coming to speak at Weber State University.
Ron Stallworth, the character at the heart of the Oscar-nominated Spike Lee movie “BlacKkKlansman,” will offer two lectures on Tuesday, Feb. 5. He’ll speak at 10:30 a.m. that day, and again at 6 p.m., in the Shepherd Union Wildcat Theater at Weber State University, 3848 Harrison Blvd. Admission is free.
Stallworth became the first black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department. In 1978, after seeing a classified ad recruiting for the Ku Klux Klan in his Colorado town, Stallworth posed as a white man with racist views. A seven-month investigation followed, wherein Stallworth infiltrated the KKK, posing as a Klan member over phone and using a white officer as his stand-in for face-to-face meetings. His undercover work sabotaged cross burnings, exposed white supremacists in the military, and fought domestic terrorism.
Stallworth shared his story in the book “Black Klansman: A Memoir.” That book was used as the basis for Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” film, which is up for six Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Stallworth has ties to this state — his 30-year career in law enforcement concluded in Utah, where he worked as an investigator for the Utah Department of Public Safety. He’s known for his work on gang culture and activity, and started Utah’s first gang task force in the 1980s, according to a WSU news release.
Stallworth’s visit is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Student Involvement & Leadership, and Black Scholars United.
Adrienne Gillespie Andrews, assistant vice president for diversity and the chief diversity officer at WSU, was instrumental in bringing Stallworth to campus.
“I’ve known Ron since I was probably 11 — so, 34 or 35 years,” Andrews told the Standard-Examiner. “My dad hired him when he was executive director of liquor and drug enforcement for the state of Utah.”
Stallworth will speak on the subject “Black Migrations: Transforming History from the Inside Out.” In addition to telling his story of infiltrating the KKK, Stallworth will also speak about transforming the way people see black community members, as well as the legacy of racism in this country.
“He’s got a powerful, powerful narrative to share,” Andrews said.
Stallworth’s visit comes during Black History Month. It also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Black Scholars United group at Weber.
“There is a lot of black history in Utah,” Andrews said. “I am excited for people to explore that history — not just during February, but all year long.”
Andrews said this year is a particularly good year to study Utah history because of the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. She said black workers helped build the railroad, and it was the black porters and waiters who provided much of the work aboard America’s trains.
“There is a really fascinating history of African-Americans in this community, and I encourage people to look at that history all year long,” she said.
Andrews said 412 students self-identify as black or African-American at WSU, which is 1.5 percent of the student body. That percentage roughly mirrors the state’s demographics, according to Andrews.
Andrews said Weber State is a fitting place for Stallworth’s lecture involving race, as the school has a special place in her heart for many reasons.
“My step-grandmother, Bettye Gillespie, was raised here in Ogden, and as a young girl she couldn’t swim in the community pool,” Andrews said. “But do you know where she could swim? Weber State. This university has a history of serving people. That history isn’t always rosy, we sometimes get it wrong, but our doors and our minds are open to all.”
The school’s chief diversity officers encourages all to come and hear what Stallworth has to say on the subject of race in America.
“It’s a part of our story, part of our national story, part of our history as a people,” she said. “We have to find a way to share our story; it’s important not to be erased. We need to make sure we hear stories from all of our cultures.”