How do you defeat hate groups like the KKK?
Not at all, says Daryl Davis. Davis, 58, is a minor legend in the blues and rock and roll community, having played on stage with Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. The African-American pianist also has a very odd hobby: making friends with Klansmen.
Advertisement – story continues below
Davis says that it’s part of an initiative to turn members of the Ku Klux Klan away from hate that the group preaches. It may sound counterintuitive, but according to the U.K. Independent, Davis has helped over 200 individuals leave the Klan — often meeting them on his travels throughout the United States. He’s even attended Klan rallies.
“Not everyone in the Klan is going to become my friend,” Davis said in a 2016 interview with Fusion. “There will be people who will go to their grave being hateful, violent, and racist. They’re not going to change. But then there are those who have had that same sentiment, but they take the opportunity to sit down one on one like you and I are doing.”
Advertisement – story continues below
According to a profile in The Atlantic, Davis’ fascination with the inner workings of hate groups began in the early 1970s, when his 10th grade teacher brought a leader in the American Nazi Party into the classroom. “We’re going to ship you back to Africa. And all you Jews out there are going back to Israel … If they don’t leave voluntarily they will be exterminated in the coming race war,” the man said.
Years later, a former Klansman who had been kicked out of the group for spending KKK money on Hulk Hogan tickets offered to set Davis up with Grand Dragon Roger Kelly, one of the top men in the hate group. At the end of their first meeting, Kelly told Davis to stay in touch.
“I was thinking, ‘what? I didn’t come here to make friends with the Klan!'” said Davis. “I came here to find out, how can you hate me when you don’t know me?” The two began an unlikely friendship, and Kelly eventually renounced the group’s hateful teachings. Upon leaving the Klan, he gave Davis his robes — the first of 12 former Klansmen to do so.
Davis says he even put the Klan robe on “to see if I felt powerful. I wanted to see if it had that kind of effect. So I went to look in the mirror, and I looked stupid.”
Davis explained the reasons behind his success in getting members of the KKK to see the light.
“The most important thing I learned is that when you are actively learning about someone else you are passively teaching them about yourself,” Davis said. “So if you have an adversary with an opposing point of view, give that person a platform. Allow them to air that point of view, regardless of how extreme it may be. And believe me, I’ve heard things so extreme at these rallies they’ll cut you to the bone.
“Give them a platform,” he continued. “You challenge them. But you don’t challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform. So he and I would sit down and listen to one another over a period of time. And the cement that held his ideas together began to get cracks in it. And then it began to crumble. And then it fell apart.”
Advertisement - story continues below
In 2017, we have individuals who believe that the only way to fight hate groups is violence. Yet, how many Klansmen have they turned away from hatred? All the so-called “anti-fascist” mob known as “antifa” and its ilk have done is given them a platform through their violent activities. Understanding, courage and radical love is how the gap is bridged — three things that Daryl Davis has plenty of.
Please like and share on Facebook and Twitter with your thoughts on Davis’ story.
How do you think hate groups should be handled? Scroll down to comment below.