Daryl Davis’ long-standing efforts to befriend white supremacists has ended up changing more than a few minds, showing that human kindness can do much to heal the division between Americans.
“Love your enemies” is a proverb that many repeat, but few actually practice. However, Daryl Davis, a respected Blues musician, has truly taken it to heart, with spectacular results. Davis, an African-American, has made headlines over the years for his decades-long effort to befriend white supremacists, an endeavor that ultimately convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan members to turn their back on the infamous organization for good. A new documentary, out this month, chronicles the unlikely friendships Davis has cultivated over the years and even shows him sitting down and joking with cloaked klansmembers, a truly uncommon sight.
Davis’ desire to befriend white supremacists was, in part, motivated by his childhood. Growing up overseas thanks to his parents’ work in the foreign service, Davis was raised in integrated schools in schools all over the world and multiculturalism was something that made perfect sense. However, every time he would visit the US, he would see people segregated by race. Segregation made little sense to Davis as he had “always gotten along with everyone.”
His first encounter with a member of the KKK came in 1983 when Davis played country western music at an all-white lounge. He was then approached by a white man who praised his musical ability, comparing him to Jerry Lee Lewis – a friend of Davis. The two struck up a conversation until the man abruptly revealed his allegiance to the Klan.
“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.”
Eight years later, Davis decided to write a book examining the Klan and tracked down his friend from the all-white lounge, who reluctantly put him in contact with Roger Kelly, the leader of the KKK in Maryland. Davis arranged a meeting, which was “fraught with tension” from the very beginning. Eventually, things calmed down and the pair ended up laughing about their preconceptions about the other. “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,” Davis said regarding the meeting. “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.”
After that fateful meeting, Davis began to befriend more Klansmen and the Maryland chapter of the organization eventually collapsed altogether after Davis began to make inroads with a majority of the group’s members. Davis ultimately concluded that the best way to improve race relations and heal such divisions is to sit down with the people who disagree with you and talk. “Invite your enemy to talk – give them a platform to talk because then they will reciprocate,” Davis told the Guardian Express. “When two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting.”
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