Black author speaks of converting Klan members

By Anne Baker

So, how does a black man infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan (KKK)?

Author Daryl Davis attempted to answer this question and others Monday during a presentation at Blackman Auditorium.

Davis spoke to an attentive audience about his encounters with Klan members in the 1980s and 1990s while researching his book, “Klan-Destine Relationships.”

It was an illuminating night for members of the audience who received a lesson in KKK hierarchy, security and membership (and yes – they do carry cards).

“It was interesting and very informative,” said freshman journalism and Spanish major Chelsea Reil. “His story was unique and different than I expected.”

Students expecting to hear tales of secret gatherings and undercover attendance at Klan meetings were met with disappointment.

“I thought the flyers were a little misleading,” Reil said. “It wasn’t as undercover as I thought it would be.”

Davis began his lecture with a brief account of his childhood experiences with racism, including an incident in which, as a boy scout, he was pelted with rocks by disapproving onlookers as he marched in a parade. He said these experiences sparked his desire to understand the motivation behind white-supremacist groups like the KKK and the hatred stemming from them.

Davis graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in music and began his career as a “boogie woogie” pianist for Muddy Waters’ Legendary Blues Band. It was through his music that he first met Klan members. Using the relationships to obtain the personal information of high-ranking KKK officials, Davis set up meetings with the unsuspecting officials on the premise of interviewing them for his book. He then formed friendships that would eventually enlighten these members and precipitate their resignation from the Klan.

Davis presented video clips from a CNN story on his unlikely friendship with Klan Grand Wizard Roger Kelly.

“We took mozzarella sticks from the same basket,” Davis said of the relationship. “[Kelly] had never done that before.”

Their friendship ultimately convinced Kelly to renounce the KKK and give his Klan robes to Davis as a symbolic gesture. As Davis pulled the robes out from behind the podium, murmurs broke out from a surprised crowd.

Published in 1998, his book chronicles his journey with not only Kelly, but also other Klan members, some of whom were less receptive to Davis’ friendship.

“I got in some physical confrontations,” he said. “But I always won.”

After more than an hour of speaking, Davis delighted the audience by playing the piano in the boogie woogie manner that first allowed him to bridge the racial gap and establish friendships with Klan members.

“It was fun,” Reil said. “I didn’t know he was a musician. It was seemingly unrelated at the time, but I guess it was a good way to end his speech.”

Although he may have gotten off track, Davis’ speech contained a definite message.

“Racism is a cancer,” Davis said. “We can change those who are willing to listen.”

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