The Oak Leaf

Deryl Davis speaks on vonverting the Klan

David Abbott

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Daryl Davis, a self-described “American Embassy brat,” spent the first 10 years of his life attending schools overseas, mixing with kids from around the world. “To me, multiculturalism wasn’t just a word, it was a way of life,” Davis explained at the beginning of his presentation to a full house at Newman Auditorium on April 18.
On a tour to promote his book “Klan-Destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan,” Davis gave a funny, reflective talk about his experiences with several members of the Klan.
When his family moved to the U.S. in 1968, 10-year-old Davis had his first experience with American-style racism. He participated in a Boy Scouts parade from Lexington to Concord, Mass. in honor of Paul Revere. As the only black member of the scouts, Davis was pelted with bottles and debris from several members of the crowd who watched the parade.
No one would tell him why he was targeted, but as he grew older, Davis began to see a pattern of racial discrimination that was shocking to an adolescent raised in a climate of diplomacy.
Davis had his first experience with Matt Cole of the American Nazi party when he was in the 10th grade in Rockville, MD. During a lecture Cole was giving, he pointed to Davis and informed him that, “We’re going to ship you back to Africa.”
Faced with what he termed the “dichotomy” of respect for his elders, but not respecting the message of hatred spewed by Cole, Davis then devoted his life to the study of racism.
Davis met Roger Kelley, the Imperial Wizard of the Maryland KKK, through a man who saw him play piano in a Frederick, Maryland bar and told him that he was “the first black man I’ve ever heard that plays like Jerry Lee Lewis.”
They talked for a while and Davis found out that the man was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Their friendship grew, and Davis asked to be introduced to the Imperial Wizard. The man, whose identity Davis has protected to this day, was afraid to make the introduction, but provided him with Kelley’s address.
The Imperial Wizard was surprised to find that he’d agreed to meet a black man. Davis had arranged the meeting in a way that kept Kelley in the dark about his skin color. After the initial shock wore off, the two men became good friends and Kelley eventually left the Klan and gave his robe to Davis.
He brought the robe with him to the presentation, and after playing some boogie-woogie piano licks, took questions from the audience.
One man in the audience asked Davis if he’d ever tried on the robe. “Of course I have,” he said. “If you had one, I’m sure you’d try it on too.” Davis considered his collection of robes to be an important piece of American history, “just like baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.”

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Deryl Davis speaks on vonverting the Klan