Daryl Davis is a 58-year-old black man who lived through the Civil Rights era. He also happens to be friends with 200 (former) KKK members.
Simply through the power of courageous dialogue, Davis has successfully convinced white supremacists to renounce the Ku Klux Klan, with some even giving him their ceremonial white robes and hoods as a symbolic rejection of white supremacist ideology. The blues musician who has played with legends like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry insists his dialogues began merely out of curiosity, rather than a desire to preach at racists.
“I never set out to convert anyone in the Klan,” Davis told The Independent. “I just set out to get an answer to my question, ‘How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?’ I simply gave them a chance to get to know me and treat them the way I want to be treated. They come to their own conclusion that this ideology is no longer for them.”
Davis’ dialogues are chronicled in the new documentary Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America. The film follows Davis around the country, as he dialogues with avowed white supremacists, who begins his conversations by sitting face-to-face with a Klan member and asking them, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”
“Give that person a platform. Allow them to air their views, and people will reciprocate,” Davis says in a lecture shown in the film’s trailer.
“Hey, this is somebody I can relate to,” A man in a purple Klan robe is shown saying, with a surprised look on his face.
Daryl Davis’s actions aren’t popular with everyone, by any means. Davis recounted to The Atlantic about how prominent black leaders would “chew me up on one side and down the other” for granting legitimacy to bigots:
“[They’re] saying, you know, we’ve worked hard to get ten steps forward. Here you are sitting down with the enemy having dinner, you’re putting us twenty steps back,” Davis recalled. “I pull out my robes and hoods and say, ‘look, this is what I’ve done to put a dent in racism. I’ve got robes and hoods hanging in my closet by people who’ve given up that belief because of my conversations sitting down to dinner. They gave it up. How many robes and hoods have you collected?'”
Learn more about Davis’ documentary here.
Zach Cartwright is an activist and author from Richmond, Virginia. He enjoys writing about politics, government, and the media. Follow his work on the Public Banking Institute blog.