Communication and the KKK

by Gray Johnson ’16, Contributing Writer

Known for his Rock ’N’ Roll piano playing and race relations expertise, speaker Daryl Davis provided students on Wednesday with stories and insight on how communication and respect can fight against ignorance and hate, particularly related to racism.

Sponsored by the Student League for Black Culture, the lecture featured Daryl Davis, author of Klan-Destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan. It was held in the Watkins Room of the Trone Center and there were about 45 people in attendance.

Although he is known for being a professional musician, Davis discovered his interest in race relations as a young child.

Growing up abroad as the son of American foreign service workers, Davis had not experienced issues with race in America until late elementary school.

When marching with the Cub Scouts in Massachusetts in 1968, Davis was the only African American member of the march. He soon found himself being hit with rocks and bottles by people on the street.

“When they [my parents] told me that I was being targeted because of the color of my skin, it made absolutely no sense,” Davis said.

Although Davis became a professional musician, he spent copious time reading and learning about race relations.

“I just wanted to know why these people could hate me when they don’t even know me,” Davis said.

While playing with a band at The Silver Dollar Lounge, located in a truck stop in Maryland, Davis found himself conversing with a then member of the Ku Klux Klan. Davis then decided that he wanted to write a book on the KKK and get to the root of their beliefs.

Being one of the very few African Americans to ever sit down and converse with members of the KKK, Davis formed strong relationships with many of them. He interviewed members from all over the country to write his book, Klan-Destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan.

In the lecture, Davis described the challenges he faced when writing the novel. It was a long process that was frustrating at times, and he was often in danger.

“Sometimes I would try to meet with someone to have an interview and they would physically attack me,” Davis said.

Through all of this, however, Davis formed strong relationships with members of the KKK so much that he attracted the attention of many news outlets. These news outlets were baffled at the respect that the Klan members and Davis had for each other.

Davis explained the key components of good relationships that he had with certain members.

“I allowed them to air their views. I didn’t respect what they were saying, but I respected their right to say it,” Davis.

Davis went on to explain the importance of knowing facts and communicating them effectively. He then pulled out several KKK robes from the podium; these robes were from former Klan members who had given them to Davis when they quit the Klan.

While Davis said he never meant to convert people, his positive influence on many of the Klan members did indeed push them away from the hate they had been taught.

He concluded by stressing that all it takes is communication. He encouraged students to attack racism immediately.

“If a Rock ‘N’ Roll piano player can do it, so can you,” Davis said.