Meet Daryl Davis - a musician who has played with the likes of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. However, this isn’t the most striking thing about him.
In an interview with 9 News, Davis talked about his mission to put some consciousness into Ku Klux Klan members’ brains. So far, he has been successful over two dozen individual times. He's chronicled his successes and failures in a book, Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan, and in the documentary Accidental Courtesy.
Most part of Davis’ childhood was spent outside of the U.S., and he only began to witness tense race relations once he returned. “When I experienced racism here in my own country, I was not prepared for it. I had never heard the word racism,” he said.
To help him make friends, Davis parents enrolled him in the Cub Scouts. Davis marched with his fellow Cub Scouts and had rocks and bottles thrown at him. To their credit, white Scouts blocked the assault with their own bodies. Davis’ parents explained that the people throwing things at him were doing it because of the color of his skin.
“I literally thought they were liars, because I could not understand how anyone who had never seen me, who had never spoken to me, who knew nothing about me, would want to cause me harm, just because of the color of my skin,” said Davis.
Ever since, Davis has dedicated himself to answering the question, “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?”
Davis' interaction with the Klan began when one Klansman began coming to his shows. The Klansman hooked Davis up with the leader of the KKK in Maryland, a man called Roger Kelly. Though initially Davis never planned to “make friends with the Klan,” his first meeting with Kelly led to the Klan leader coming to his gigs and eventually to his house. The men would talk for hours. Sometimes things got a little heated.
But eventually, the unthinkable happened: Kelly quit the KKK. In a metaphorical exchange of hope, Kelly actually handed his robes to Davis, crediting the musician with opening his mind. Davis now has more than 24 robes in his collection.
Of course, Davis worried about his safety and about losing his temper during conversations with KKK members, but he has learned how to show them the error of their ways. “The greatest weapon I have is information,” he said, noting that Klansmen he talks to are often surprised about the depths of his knowledge about the organization.
Davis also stressed the importance of civil dialogue. “When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting. They might be yelling and screaming and disagreeing, but at least they’re talking." Davis feels he teaches Klansmen something.
Davis said that it isn't just Klansmen who he has to worry about. Some in the black community aren't particularly fond of his efforts either. Some wonder why would he “befriend” the enemy; others have called him an "Uncle Tom."
Black Lives Matters activists Tariq Touré and Kwame Rose argued that Davis was putting energy into a lost cause, with Rose asking him why he was “wasting time going into people’s houses that don’t love [him].”
To his younger critics, and to all who wonder why Davis has put so much of his life into Maryland's KKK, he says the answer is simple. “It’s not for my good. I consider it to be for the good of people in my society.”
What do you think: is an open and frank dialogue an effective measure to deal with the KKK?