While befriending a group known for lynching and killing black Americans may seem like a strange way to spend your time, for musician Daryl Davis, the results pay off.
Davis, who has played alongside Chuck Berry and Little Richard, has been befriending white supremacists since the 1980s, and has managed to make more than 200 of them see the error of their ways and turn their backs on the Klan.
Once he has made acquaintances with those who enjoy dressing in white robes and dancing around burning crosses, Davis gently seeks an answer to the question, “how could you hate me when you don’t even know me?”
“I appeal to people’s common sense,” he said earlier this month. “I don’t seek to convert them but if they spend time with me, they can’t hate me.”
Former KKK Grand Dragon Roger Kelly became such buddies with Davis that he asked him to be his daughter’s godfather, and gifted the musician with his Klan robe. Davis hopes to one day hang it in a museum.
Davis’s journey around the US has been captured in the documentary ‘Accidental Courtesy’ by Matt Ornstein, which is currently screening in a number of theaters in Los Angeles.
Not everyone gets what Davis is doing. Activist Kwame Rose is featured in the documentary telling Davis to “stop wasting your time going to people’s houses who don’t love you, a house where they want to throw you under the basement. White supremacists can’t change.”
Black Lives Matter organizer J.C. Faulk thinks Davis’s actions are “reprehensible.”
For former KKK Grand Dragon Scott Shepherd, Davis’s engaging mission led him to reach out after leaving the clan. Shepherd had left the Klan and felt guilt for what he had done. “He took me in like a brother,” he said. “You can take a positive action against a negative action and come out well. It’s one step at a time with Daryl. I think he can convert people.”
Aside from being a friendly guy, Davis also comes armed with knowledge of the Klan and its history. “Knowledge, information, wit, and the way you disseminate these attributes can often prove to be a more disarming weapon against an enemy or someone with whom your ideology is in conflict, than violence or lethal weapons,” he says.
An arsenal of a smile and knowledge isn’t always enough, and Davis has had to fight a few white supremacists, some of whom he says “are absolutely repulsed when they see a black person and want to hurt that person.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimates that there are between 5,000 and 8,000 Klan members across the US.