Musician Daryl Davis: Confronting Bigotry One Klansman at a Time

Musician Daryl Davis: Confronting Bigotry One Klansman at a Time

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

If you’re an R&B and blues aficionado, then you’ve no doubt heard of musician Daryl Davis. What you may not know, aside from his incredible talent, is that Davis has a unique and perhaps dicey way of confronting racism; by seeking out KKK members and other White supremacists for a congenial sit-down.

Born in Chicago in 1958, young Daryl experienced outright bigotry for the first time when he was about 9-years old, marching in a Cub Scouts parade while several white kids began taunting him because he was black. One even threw a rock that almost hit him. Confused, he asked his parents after the parade why did the white kids pick on him? That pivotal encounter left a burning question in Daryl’s mind: “How can you hate me if you do not know me?”

Davis’ parents both worked in the U.S. Foreign Service and as a child, Daryl traveled the world. He was used to attending integrated schools where the children of diplomats of different ethnic backgrounds, races, and cultural traditions mingled together in harmony. Racism had never been an issue, until Daryl’s parents came back home to Chicago after their foreign service tour.

About 54 years after that memorable incident as a child, 63-year old Daryl Davis has achieved success as an R&B and blues musician, author, and bandleader, performing with legendary icons such as Chuck Berry, B.B. King, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Unfortunately, a performance at the Silver Dollar Lounge in Frederick, Maryland, in 1983 would once again rekindle that one burning question that Daryl had; “How can you hate me if you do not know me?”

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After his set, Daryl was approached by a member of the audience who told him he had never seen a black man who could play like Jerry Lee Lewis. That began a conversation that would reveal a surprising truth: The man making the comment was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

That revelation set into motion a 30 year journey for Daryl, vowing to bring social change by going directly to members of the Klan and other White supremacist groups with the hope of creating a meaningful dialogue and exchanging views in an open and friendly debate.

Unfortunately, going from being an R&B entertainer performing on stage at a lounge in Maryland, to becoming a social activist attending Klan rallies and cross burnings in the dead-of-night in some God forsaken cornfield while searching for answers to bigotry can be a risky proposition, especially if you’re black.

Nevertheless, as a devote Christian, Daryl was convinced that music combined with the “art-of-persuasion” could have a positive effect on many Klan members.

I figured, who better to ask [that burning question about hate] than somebody who would go so far as to join an organization whose whole premise is hating people who do not look like them,” Daryl said. “I try to convince people that to sit down and talk will prove that what they believe is not the way it is, and that my conversations with them will enable them to see the humanity in me.”

Daryl soon found out that his unique approach of speaking directly from the heart to KKK members began to pay off. Soon, those that distrusted him began to appreciate his honesty and enemies soon became friends, until more than 200 Klansmen to date have publicly disavowed their allegiance to the hateful group.

One of those is Scott Shepherd, a former Grand Dragon from Tennessee, who travels with Daryl to Klan rallies around the country, spreading the word of compassion and tolerance and to be especially color-blind of one’s race.