GRAMMY-WINNING PIANIST & AUTHOR DARYL DAVIS SPEAKS ABOUT KKK AT MGC
(Cochran, GA) – Author and Grammy-winning pianist Daryl Davis recently spoke to Middle Georgia College students, faculty, and community members about his experiences with the Ku Klux Klan as an African-American. The event was sponsored by MGC Multicultural Affairs and Learning Communities.
As the son of an American Diplomat, Davis attended international schools in the early 1960s until his family moved to Massachusetts when he was ten, where he had his first experience with racism while marching in a parade with his Cub Scout Group. Davis was the only African-American in the group. “I was hit by debris by white spectators, and I realized I was the only one,” he said. “I wanted to know why.”
Davis talked to his parents about the incident, but he didn’t understand their explanation of racism. “I thought they were lying,” he said. “These people knew nothing about me, but they wanted to inflict pain on me because I was black.” Davis didn’t understand what was behind the hate. “People aren’t born with this ideology, so where does it come from? I wanted to study it and find out.”
After college, Davis was playing with his band in a bar when a white man approached him and compared his piano playing to Jerry Lee Lewis. Davis invited the man to have a drink with him. “He said it was the first time he had sat down and had a drink with a black man,” said Davis. “I asked him why, and he said he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.”
Davis developed a friendship with the Klansman, who brought his friends to hear Davis’s band play. “It’s interesting how our friendship evolved through music,” he said. Davis was writing a book at the time about the Klan, and he asked the man for help in getting interviews with other Klan members, especially Roger Kelly, the Maryland Klan leader at the time.
Davis eventually arranged a meeting with Kelly in a motel room. Along with his secretary Mary Barber, Davis met with Kelly and his Klan bodyguard. “I shook his hand, we sat down, and he asked for my ID,” said Davis. “We never got rude, violent, or disrespectful.”
During the interview, a strange noise occurred in the room, and the atmosphere became tense, said Davis. When they realized it was the ice melting in a cooler and soda cans shifting, they laughed. “We were ok until a foreign entity entered, and then we became fearful,” said Davis. “This ignorance breeds fear, which leads to hate, then to destruction. We hate what are afraid of, and we want to destroy what we hate.”
Davis and Kelly struck up an unusual friendship, with Kelly inviting Davis over for lunch and going to hear his band play. “We realized we had more in common than in contrast,” said Davis. Eventually, Davis accompanied Kelly to Klan rallies. At one of the rallies, Kelly told the crowd he respected Davis because they hear each other out. “I don’t respect what he said at the rally, but his right to say it,” said Davis. “If someone has an opposing view, you should give them a platform to express themselves. You need to politely challenge them, and they will most likely reciprocate. They will begin thinking, and their thoughts may shift. No one wants to be wrong; we all want to be right.” Kelly has since renounced his title and left the Klan.
MGC student Latoya McClinton said she enjoyed Davis’s presentation. “I didn’t expect the talk to go so in depth,” she said. “It was something different, and I liked that he had video clips to prove his points.”
Davis, a Grammy-winning blues and R&B pianist, earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Howard University, and has toured with Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters Legendary Blues Band, among others. His book, Klan-Destine Relationships: a Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan, explores his relationship with the Klan. He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, and The Washington Post, among others.