Daryl Davis is a jazz musician who engages directly with members of the Ku Klux Klan to broaden their worldviews. He has directly inspired over 200 Klansmen to leave the organization, and dismantled the Klan's operation in the state of Maryland.
Tell me about your background. My parents were US Foreign Service, so I grew up as an American embassy brat traveling all over the world. When I was overseas in elementary school, my classes were filled with other kids from embassies all around the world: Nigerians, Italians, Russians, Germans, Swedes, whoever. That was the norm, so we all got along. But when I came home, I went to all-black schools, or black-andwhite schools. I was one of two black kids at my school in Belmont, Massachusetts. I had been living years ahead of my time when I was overseas.
A number of the guys in my class were members of the Cub Scouts, and they invited me to join. One day, when I was 10 years old, we had a parade from Lexington to Concord to commemorate the ride of Paul Revere. Everything was going smoothly. Then, suddenly, a group of four or five people started throwing bottles and small rocks at me. My first thought was that those people must have had something against the Scouts. It wasn't until my Cub master and other adults huddled over me and escorted me out of the danger that I realized I was the only one getting hit.
Later that day, as my parents cleaned me up, they explained what racism was for the first time. I had never heard the word "racism" because I had never been exposed to it. It made no logical sense to me. How could someone hate me when they didn't even know me? My parents had never lied to me, but I thought they had to be lying to me. People didn't do things like that.
A month or two later, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. And nearby Boston burned to the ground in the name of this new word I had learned. I now knew my parents had been telling the truth: racism does exist. But I still didn't understand why. I read all kinds of books about racism, white supremacy, and black supremacy, but they never explained how people came to believe those ideologies.
How did you go from that experience to sitting down with members of the Klan?
I got my degree in jazz performance. Music is my profession, race relations is my obsession. In the 1980s, I was the only black guy in a country band, and usually the only black guy in the places we played. One night, I played this bar in Maryland called the Silver Dollar Lounge. After the first set, we went on break, and a white gentleman put his arm around my shoulder.
He said, "You're the first black man I've heard play like Jerry Lee Lewis." I wasn't offended, but I was surprised; he...