MORE THAN TWO DOZEN KLAN MEMBERS HAVE HANDED THEIR ROBES OVER TO DARYL DAVIS.
Walk into Daryl Davis’ home in Silver Spring, Maryland, and you’ll see photos of him lining every wall. The accomplished musician has photos of himself alongside legends like Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. Even more eye-catching are the photos of Davis amongst men in robes and pointy hoods. You see, for decades the black musician has been befriending and converting members of the Ku Klux Klan.
How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?
Davis spent most of his childhood abroad, following his parents who worked in the United States Foreign Service. His diverse international education was crucial in shaping his views on race.
“I was literally living about 12 to 15 years into the future.”
While Davis was in class with children from all over the world, schools in the U.S. were only beginning to desegregate. When he returned to the states, race relations were the last thing on his mind.
“When I experienced racism here in my own country, I was not prepared for it. I had never heard the word racism.”
Davis was one of two black children in his new school. When his friends got him to join the Cub Scouts, he was the only black scout. In 1968, during a statewide Boy Scout march to celebrate the ride of Paul Revere, Davis was chosen to carry the American Flag at the head of his troupe. When people in the crowd started to throw bottles and rocks at him, his first thought was “oh, these people over there don’t like the scouts.” It was only when his troop members and leaders started blocking him from the debris with their bodies that he realized he was the only person being targeted.
His parents explained racism to him for the first time that day. Davis couldn’t comprehend why someone would hate him for such a strange reason.
“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.”
And so began a lifelong quest to answer one question: How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?
Befriending the KKK
Davis’ quest led him to write Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan. He interviewed countless Klan members to get to the heart of their hatred. It all started when a Klansman happened to come to one of his gigs. Although he was surprised to see a member of the KKK at his show, the man continued to show up to hear his music. Davis used this connection to score an interview with Roger Kelly, the Grand Dragon or State Leader of the KKK in Maryland.
Davis’ assistant called Kelly for the interview. She didn’t mention that he was a black man, and Kelly didn’t know until he showed up to meet him at a motel above the Silver Dollar Lounge in Frederick, Maryland. After a long and tense conversation, which Davis recounts in his documentary Accidental Courtesy, the two men shook hands, the Klan leader said “Stay in touch,” and he gave Davis his business card.
“I was thinking, I didn’t come here to make friends with the Klan!”
Nevertheless, Davis began to invite Kelly to his gigs and even to his house.
“He would sit right over there on the couch. After a while he began coming down here by himself. Then he began inviting me to his house.”
Davis, in turn, began to attend Klan rallies. He met more members, and collected more interviews.
Roger Kelly quit the KKK.
Kelly gave Davis his robes when he quit, and over the years Davis has collected more than two dozen similar robes.
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SOURCE: 11Alive – Suzanne Nuyen, Francis Abbey