Daryl Davis is a blues musician who plays the music of different styles. He has an interesting hobby of befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan. Davis has been doing this for the past 30 years and he is a black man.

According to Davis, once the friendship blossoms, the Klansmen realize that they are wrong and that their hate is misguided. By just sitting down and having dinner with people and talking to them, Davis has been able to make 200 Klansmen to give up their robes.

When the Klansmen give up their robes, Davis collects the robes and keeps them in his home as a reminder of the dent he has made in racism. It all started when he entered the Silver Dollar Lounge in Frederick, Maryland, for a country gig, one fateful night in 1983. He was the only black man in the room but he wasn’t perturbed.

While this was not his first country gig at the Silver Dollar Lounge, it was his most significant. After he and his band finished their set, Davis was approached by a patron who was around 15 years his senior.

However, while praising Davis on his performance, the patron candidly noted that he had never seen a black man who could play like Jerry Lee Lewis.

More curious than offended, Davis used this encounter as an opportunity for friendly discourse rather than outrage. “I explained to this older white guy that Jerry Lee Lewis was influenced by the same black boogie-woogie and blues piano players as I was.

He didn’t believe me. Then I told him that Jerry Lewis is a good friend of mine and well, he didn’t believe that either, but he was fascinated.”

“So he asks me to join him for a drink,” he continues. “I don’t drink so I had a glass of cranberry juice and then he took his glass and cheered me. Then he said, ‘You know, this is the first time I ever sat down and had a drink with a black person.’ I was instantly curious and thought, ‘What’s going on here?’ So I asked him why. He didn’t answer at first but eventually admitted that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.”

This is a story Davis shares on lecture stages and in classrooms – both nationally and globally. It is an important anecdote as it marks a catalytic moment in which Davis’s trajectory pivoted from working musician to race relations crusader.

What began as a hobby gradually transformed into a calling. As his music career continued to flourish, Davis also became enmeshed in quite arguably the world’s strangest side hustle – meeting with KKK members of various ranks and attending so-called cross lighting rallies.

Some of these Klansmen became close friends of Davis’s – the aforementioned Silver Dollar patron included – their long conversations untangling a knot of hate that had coiled for decades. In many cases, these civil dialogues led them to quitting the organization because they no longer believed in its tenets.

While some say Davis converted these men, he prefers to say that they converted themselves and that he merely provided the impetus for them to do so. Over the past 30 years, Davis has become well-versed in the organization’s ethos and hierarchy which led to him becoming the first black man to write a book about the KKK entitled Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan, which was published in 1998.

One of Davis’s first and most fabled encounters was with Grand Dragon Robert Kelly, who eventually became the Imperial Wizard of Maryland. After having his secretary set up a meeting with Kelly under the pretense of including him in a book about the KKK, Davis knew he was entering new territory.

Kelly was unaware that Davis was black, so the grand reveal was a shock. After a few tense hours of conversation, the two parted ways, but their relationship did not end there.

Eventually, Kelly began inviting Davis to his home and then to Klan rallies in which ritualistic chants were intoned, giant crosses were burned, and beer and hot dogs were served. Kelly shared everything with him, including the deeply racial stereotypes that help form the foundation of the Klan’s hatred.

All the while, Davis listened, asked questions, took notes, and through his actions, slowly dispelled each stereotype one by one. With each conversation, the gap between them narrowed and they were able to become friends.

Finally, Kelly quit the Klan, shut down his entire chapter and, as a trophy of sorts, gave his robe to Davis. That was not the last Ku Klux Klan robe that Davis would be gifted nor was it the last Klansman he would befriend.

Davis continues to focus on those who are open to conversation, open to civil discourse, open to friendship, and ultimately, open to change.


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