Daryl Davis claims to have inspired people to quit the Ku Klux Klan. Daryl Davis met his first member of the Ku Klux Klan at an all-white venue beneath a truckstop motel in a crossroads town of Maryland — a former slaveholding state and Civil War battleground that had practiced segregation into the s.
It was and the KKK was clawing back power — recruiting members, setting up paramilitary training camps and holding rallies. Two years earlier in Alabama, the KKK had beaten and killed a year-old black man, and hung his body from a tree.
After he and his band had finished their set, one of the patrons came over and flung his arm around the musician's shoulders. He'd loved the show. He was full of praise. This was the first time he'd heard a black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis — the famous white rock'n'roller known for his energetic style. That was a strange thing to say, because everyone knew that Lewis had learned to play from black blues and boogie woogie players. Davis told the stranger, "Jerry Lee Lewis is a very good friend of mine.
He's told me himself where he learned how to play. The older man said he didn't believe him, but invited Davis back to his table, where his friends were, and bought him a drink. At the table the man told Davis, "You know, this is the first time I ever sat down and had a drink with a black man.
Why was that? The man didn't answer. His friend dug him in the ribs, "Tell him," he said. Davis burst out laughing. Members of the Klan didn't buy black men drinks and praise their piano-playing. The guy had to be joking. Davis watched the man calmly open his wallet and pull out a Klan membership card. He gave Davis his phone number.
He played the Silver Dollar every six weeks. On breaks between sets, he'd go over to the table and say hello. Some of the KKK members wanted to speak to him and others got up and went to another part of the room.
How can you hate me when you don't even know me? As a boy, Davis had tried to wrap his brain around that question. He knew racism. It was strangers throwing glass bottles as he marched in the Cub Scouts parade.
His parents had explained that these people wanted to hurt him for no other reason than the colour of his skin. He'd been incredulous. As a teenager, he'd educated himself about white supremacy, buying books on the Klan and Nazis and other groups.
Now here he was, with actual white supremacists. The opportunity to answer the question that had been plaguing him since the age of 10 had fallen into his lap. Years later, long after he had quit that band that played at the Silver Dollar, he dug up the phone number of the man in the KKK. Davis's white secretary called the Klan leader. Could he do an interview for a man writing a book about the Klan? The Imperial Wizard was wary, but agreed. The secretary didn't mention that the author was a black man.
They'd meet at a highway motel. The klan leader, whose name was Roger Kelly, turned up with an armed bodyguard. At a time when the balance has swung away from engagement and towards deplatforming, Davis is a black man who argues the opposite: We have an obligation to politely and intelligently challenge racist attitudes, he told Hack.
Some would say this approach is deeply flawed, that these people belong to an evil organisation and deserve contempt. But Davis has had clear success: He claims to have been directly responsible for up to 60 people leaving the Klan, and indirectly responsible for When they left the group, many did so with a simple gesture and a powerful symbol; they gave Davis their KKK robes.
Davis remembers their meeting at the motel clearly. Kelly opened the door and was shocked to see that the interviewer was black. The interview began. Both sides began to relax. Then there was a sudden, sharp noise. Everyone froze. The bodyguard had his hand on his gun. After a long silence, they realised the sound had come from the ice bucket: the soft drink cans had shifted as the ice melted. I was allowing him to say what he had to say because I wanted to learn from him.
They arranged a second interview. Over the following years, Davis said, he and the white supremacist became "very good friends". In that time, Kelly was promoted from Klan head in Maryland to national leader. After a few more years, he invited Davis into his house.
Davis took notes of what he saw. Next Kelly invited him to Klan rallies, where members paraded around foot high flaming crosses. Next, Davis appeared on stage at the rallies. Wasn't there a danger that he was giving the Klan his tacit approval? Did he worry that his presence helped members think their separatist beliefs were being more widely accepted? The Klan kept going. The racist far-right morphed into the militia movement, which was energised by the election of Donald Trump.
Not long after, spotting a black man wielding a small, makeshift flamethrower made from an aerosol can, he pulled a pistol and fired toward him.
The man was uninjured and Preston was charged with firing the gun. Daryl Davis paid some of his bail money and, at a preliminary hearing months later, testified on Preston's behalf.
The day of the visit, Preston wore a Confederate flag bandanna. They browsed the exhibits, including those that showed mangled black victims of the KKK. Preston admired the quality of the handmade KKK robes. Preston was getting married in nine days time. He asked Davis if he would walk his fiancee, a member of the KKK, down the aisle. He still has a little ways to go. But at least he's going in the right direction.
Wednesday 15 July am. Image: Getty. Share Facebook Twitter Mail Whatsapp. Davis, then 25, was there to play piano and leave. Image: Supplied.
Supporters of Ku Klux Klan march in Georgia in Roger Kelly and Daryl Davis. Daryl Davis at a Klan rally. Richard Preston fires at Charlotesville counterprotesters.