How One Man Armed With Compassion Convinced 200 Racists to Quit the KKK
It sometimes seems that the repugnant visage of racial prejudice is never far from media headlines, yet one remarkable man is taking matters into his own hands, aiming to kill hatred and extinguish prejudice through compassion. That man is Daryl Davis, an accomplished blues musician and author, he has singlehandedly befriended and caused more than 200 white racists to leave the Ku Klux Klan. He also happens to be African American.
As a musician, his professional resume is impressive, and includes working with such luminaries as Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Dolly Parton, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Johnny Winter, among many others, but it is the acquaintances and associations he pursues offstage that might raise eyebrows. Several years ago, Davis, now 58, began attending rallies of the Ku Klux Klan white supremacist movement, extending the hand of friendship across the deep divide of ignorance.
“One of the first Klan members I met was when I was in a country band. I was the only black guy in the band and in the whole place,” Davis recalls. “This white guy came up to me on our break and said that this was the first time he’d ever heard a black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis. I explained to him that Jerry Lee Lewis learned that style from black boogie-woogie piano players. The guy didn’t believe me, even after I told him I knew Jerry Lee personally and he had told me this himself. Turns out the guy was a member of the Klan, but was fascinated with me and became a regular fan. He and I became friends and it was him who helped me initially get started in meeting other Klan members.” (Reddit)
Since then, Davis, who wrote the 1998 book Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man's Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan to document his mission, has traveled across the US, seeking out and befriending members of the cult and engaging them in dialogue, despite the very real risks to his personal safety.
“It's a wonderful thing when you see a light bulb pop on in their heads or they call you and tell you they are quitting,” explains Davis. “I never set out to convert anyone in the Klan. I just set out to get an answer to my question: ‘How can you hate me when you don't even know me?’ I simply gave them a chance to get to know me and treat them the way I want to be treated. They come to their own conclusion that this ideology is no longer for them. I am often the impetus for coming to that conclusion and I’m very happy that some positivity has come out of my meetings and friendships with them.” (Mail Online)
Davis relates one such conversation with a Klan member who offered the absurd argument that, “all black people have a gene in them that makes them violent.” Rather than respond in anger, Davis challenged the man to examine his belief: “After a time I said, ‘You know, it’s a fact that all white people have within them a gene that makes them serial killers. Name me three black serial killers.’ He could not do it. I said ‘you have the gene. It’s just latent.’ He said, ‘Well that’s stupid!’ I said, ‘It’s just as stupid as what you said to me.’ He was very quiet after that and I know it was sinking in.” (Baltimore Fishbowl)
As he continues with his mission to bring out the humanity in people with persistence and determination, Davis expresses confidence that there is light at the end of the tunnel, insisting that American society is far less racist than it was in the past: “There has always been a great deal of racism in the US, before and after [US President Barack] Obama. However, racism in the US is down, post Obama.” (Mail Online)
“In Israel, it’s Palestinian versus Jew. In Lebanon, it’s Christian versus Muslim. In Iraq, it's Sunni Muslim versus Shiite Muslim. In certain African countries, the conflict is tribal. In India, we see a caste system based on the shade of skin color and classicism,” says Davis. “The lesson learned is: ignorance breeds fear. If you don’t keep that fear in check, that fear will breed hatred. If you don’t keep hatred in check, it will breed destruction.” (Mail Online, The Washington Post)
Killing hatred with kindness: Black man has convinced 200 racists to abandon the KKK by making friends with them despite their prejudiced views (Mail Online)
Dancing with the Devil (The Washington Post)
I AM Daryl Davis, "Black Man Who Befriended KKK Members" AMA (Reddit)
Here’s the Black Blues Musician Who “Dismantled the Entire KKK in Md.” (Baltimore Fishbowl)
Meet the Black Blues Musician Who Befriended the KKK (The Daily Beast)
Daryl Davis: Official Website
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