Meet the black man who has made a career out of befriending members of the KKK

  • Daryl Davis is a respected musician who became fascinated by racism as a child
  • After inadvertently becoming friends with a member of the Ku Klux Klan, he decided to write about a book about members, setting out to begin relationships with anyone involved
  • His work has been lauded for breaking down racial divides and dismantling some KKK factions, with at least 20 members leaving the order after meeting him
  • Now he has explained the genesis of his story

PUBLISHED: 13:15 EST, 23 November 2013 | UPDATED: 13:15 EST, 23 November 2013
Musician-come-author Daryl Davis has revealed how he came to embed himself with members of the Ku Klux Klan.
The 54-year-old lecturer became fascinated with racism in the United States as a child living overseas.
With parents in the foreign service, he was raised in integrated schools all over the world and was used to multiculturalism.
‘Every time I would come back (to the US,) I would see people separated by race,’ he explains in a new interview with The Guardian Express.
‘When my father was telling me about (the KKK) at the age of 10 it didn’t make any sense to me. 
‘I had always gotten along with everyone.’

Pioneer: Daryl Davis plays the blues at the 17th annual Bluebird Blues Festival. Davis has been lauded for his work in breaking down divides between black people the Ku Klux KlanPioneer: Daryl Davis plays the blues at the 17th annual Bluebird Blues Festival. Davis has been lauded for his work in breaking down divides between black people the Ku Klux Klan

In 1983 Davis – who is friends with Jerry Lee Lewis and has performed for Bill Clinton – was playing country western music in an all-white lounge.
Following his set, a man approached him praising his music, saying it was the first time he had heard a black man play as well as Lewis.
The two sat down to talk and the man told Davis he was in the KKK.
‘At first, I thought ‘why the hell am I sitting with him?’ Davis said.
‘But we struck up a friendship and it was music that brought us together,’ he says.
Little did Davis know at the time, this man would be the key to his future endeavors.
Eight ears later Davis decided to write a book examining the Ku Klux Klan and managed to track his friend down.
‘I went to his apartment unannounced,’ Davis says. 
‘He opens the door and sees me, and he says ”Daryl! What are you doing here?”
‘He stepped out of his apartment and I stepped in. 
He said ‘what’s going on man? Are you still playing?’ 
‘I said ‘I need to talk to you about the Klan’.’
At first the man refused to cooperate, saying it would put Davis in danger, but eventually he handed over the information of Roger Kelly, who was the leader of the KKK in Maryland.
The man warned Davis to meet Kelly in a public place out of safety.
Davis had his secretary set up a meeting, instructing her to not tell Kelly he was black.
‘I knew enough about the mentality of the Klan that they would never think a white woman would work for a black man,’ he said.

Daryl Davis has explained how he began befriending members of the KKK, which eventually lead to the dismantlement of some factions and at least 20 members dis-robing and leaving the Hooded OrderDaryl Davis has explained how he began befriending members of the KKK, which eventually lead to the dismantlement of some factions and at least 20 members dis-robing and leaving the Hooded Order

The pair met a hotel, with the secretary fetching an ice bucket with sodas.
The meeting was ‘fraught with tension from the start’ after Kelly arrived with a nighthawk – an armed bodyguard dressed in military fatigues.
‘I saw the apprehension (when Kelly realized I’m black) so I got up and walked over and said ”Hi Mr. Kelly, come on in”.
‘He shook my hand, the bodyguard shook my hand, and they came in. Mr. Kelly sits down and the bodyguard stands at his right. 
‘He asked for identification and I handed him my drivers’ license. 
He says ”oh you live on Flack Street in Silver Spring’’.
‘Well, I didn’t need him coming to my house and burning a cross or whatever, and here he is calling off my street address. 
‘I wanted to let him know not to come to my house so I said ‘yes, and you live at…’ and I said his street address. 
‘I made it clear-’let’s confine our visit to this hotel room.’
‘But I had no reason to be concerned. One of his Klan members lived right down the street from me. It was coincidence.’
The interview began and each time Davis reached into his bag to get a new cassette for his voice recorder, the bodyguard would reach for his gun.
Davis said the man relaxed ‘after a little while’.
But that’s when the trouble started.

‘After about an hour, there was a very loud, strange noise which was ominous, and I was apprehensive. 
‘In the back of my mind, I heard my friend in my head saying ”Mr. Kelly will kill you”.
‘I stood up and slammed my hands on the table, and I felt my life was in danger. 
‘When my hands hit the table, my eyes locked with his, and he could read them. We stared into each others eyes.
‘The bodyguard was looking back and forth at us, but then my secretary Mary realized what had happened.
‘The ice bucket had melted and the cans of soda shifted, and that’s what made the noise! 
‘We all began laughing at how stupid we all had been. 
‘In retrospect, it was a very important lesson that was taught. 
‘All because a foreign entity of which we were ignorant, entered into our comfort zone, we became fearful of each other. 
‘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.’
The situation made way for a friendship with Kelly, which lead Kelly to start relationships with about 20 other KKK members.
He has collected about that many robes and hoods that were given to him by members who left the Klan after meeting him.
Davis is credited with dismantling the Maryland KKK because the group’s structure ‘fell apart’ after he began making inroads with the men.
Davis said he would simply challenge the many misconceptions Klansmen had about black people as a result of brainwashing.
In one circumstance, a member told him that ‘all black people had a gene that makes them violent’.
He countered by saying that ‘all white people have a gene that makes them serial killers.
‘He said ”that’s stupid” and 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,’ Davis said.
Davis also became close with Robert White, a leader in the KKK known as a Grand Dragon. 
‘I respect someone’s right to air their views whether they are wrong or right,’ Davis said. 
‘Robert White was a Grand Dragon who had gone to prison numerous times. 
‘I said I wanted to interview him for my book. 
‘At first, he was very violent and very hateful but we talked for a long time. 
‘Over time, he began thinking about a lot of things he had done and said that were wrong. 
‘He quit the Klan. 
‘Toward the end he said he would follow me to hell and back … and he gave me his robe and hood.’
All these relationships and experiences have been documented in Davis’ book, Klan-Destine Relationships, in which he concludes that the best way to break down barriers and improve race relations is for people who disagree to sit down and talk.
‘Invite your enemy to talk – give them a platform to talk because then they will reciprocate,’ he said.
‘Invite your enemies to sit down and join you.
‘One small thing you say might give them food for though, and you will learn.
‘Establish dialogue. It’s when the talking stops that the ground becomes fertile for fighting.
‘When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting.’
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