When Love Conquered Hate
Daryl Davis is a man of many talents. He is author of the book, Klan -Destine Relationships, he’s appeared in theater in such roles as The Time of Your Life, Elvis Mania, and Polk County. And on television on such notable shows as The Wire, and a even a film documentary for the U.S Army. However, he may be most famous for his career as blues musician, and leader of The Daryl Davis Band. Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1958, he had the luxury of learning from some of the best blues stylists of the day.
He earned his Bachelor of Music degree in 1980 from Howard University and worked amongst some of the living legends as great as Chuck Berry, B.B.King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others. In 2009 he was awarded "Best Traditional Blues/R&B Instrumentalist " by the Washington Area Music Awards. And adding yet another feather to his already illustrious cap; he has served for several years as the Artistic Director for the Centrum Acoustic Blues Festival. He has certainly had a long and successful career, and to the delight of his fans, Davis continues to perform to this day.
These men belonged to one of the most reviled organizations in America, despised by all races, including their own. Yet Davis embraced them as friends, broke bread with them, and showed them that race is only skin deep.
Davis was performing at a bar called the Silver Dollar Louge In Frederick, Maryland one night in 1983. After his set a man approached him and complimented his musical style claiming that he had "never heard a black man play like Jerry Lee Lewis" before. Davis laughed and asked the man who he thought taught Lewis to play, saying that Lewis learned from the same place he did: black, blues, and boogie woogie piano players. The man refused to believe that black people could school Lewis on his craft, insisting instead that the other musicians all learned their trade from Lewis. Nevertheless, Davis and the man hit it off and sat down and had a beer together.
While the two men were enjoying their drinks, the man turned to Davis and mentioned that it was the first time he'd ever had a drink with a black man before. Naturally, Davis was curious about how that was even possible. The man confessed that it was because he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, even showing him his membership card as proof. Ordinarily, members of the Klan would not sit down over drinks with an African American, it would be akin to the proverbial lion lying down with the lamb. But there they were, the two each enjoying the other's company.
The man asked Davis to call him when he played at the Silver Dollar again in the future. Davis took him up on his offer and invited him back for future gigs. The man came and even brought his friends, who happened to be fellow Klansmen. These men belonged to one of the most reviled organizations in America, despised by all races, including their own. Yet Davis embraced them as friends, broke bread with them, and showed them that race is only skin deep.
By engaging in civil discourse, Davis has changed more hearts and minds than the most well-meaning social warrior.
The original meeting in 1983 marked a turning point in the life of Daryl Davis. He had realized that he needed to speak with more leaders of the Klan. A bright man, Davis bought books and studied the history of the Klan determined to learn as much, if not more, than the members themselves. His goal was to meet members, speak with them, and find out why they hated him. Over the past thirty years, he's done just that. The members were often impressed that Davis knew so much about their history, many even invited him back for future engagements.
Daryl Davis had a bit of a morbid fascination with racism. As a black man of his generation, he was a bit more familiar with it than most. He had a drive to study all forms of racism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism, fortunately, he is intelligent enough to use that negative information for positivity. For more than thirty years Davis has met with Klan members, had conversations with their Imperial Wizards, and slowly had them question their beliefs. By engaging in civil discourse, Davis has changed more hearts and minds than the most well-meaning social warrior.
Davis met separately with Klan leaders, Roger Kelly, Robert White, and Chester Doles. He interviewed them at their homes and invited them to dinners at his house. Sometimes they would be joined by Jews and other African Americans, and these leaders of the most hateful group in the country would sit and talk with these minorities, more importantly they would learn from each other. Eventually those three leaders quit the Ku Klux Klan. As a result, there is now no more KKK in the state of Maryland. A few people have tried to revive it, but to no avail.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr
Love in action
It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword and ideas are more powerful than conventional weapons. There is truth in this. It is easy to forget that members of the Klan weren’t born evil. At one time they were infants, innocent of the wicked ways of the world. Then they were toddlers, children, and teenagers and grew into angry and dangerous adults. Somewhere along the line they were taught to hate. That kind of hatred you can’t fight with weapons. It merely doubles down on itself at the application of any pressure. The good news is, those who can be taught to hate, can also be taught to love.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Violence begets violence and injustice merely breeds more injustice. The chink in the armor of radical hatred is love. Sadly, it’s much easier to say one ‘must love thy neighbor,’ than it is to put that love into action. Daryl Davis is an anomaly. He’s one of those rare souls that looked past his revulsion at the klan’s hateful ideology and offered them an olive branch of peace. As a result of his patience and dedication, in over thirty years of reaching out to his neighbor, Davis has convinced over 200 Klansmen to turn in their robes. Because of Davis, there are 200 fewer violent people in the world. Daryl Davis healed the world with more than just his music. We can all learn from such a great man.
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© 2017 Anna Watson