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Thursday, Apr 24, 2014

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KKK Daryl Davis

Daryl Davis displays a KKK hood and robe during his talk

Photographer: Samantha Owens

KKK Daryl Davis

Hundreds of people showed up to listen to Daryl Davis talk about his relationship with KKK members

Photographer: Samantha Owens

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Black History Month speaker says communication helped him understand the KKK


Daryl Davis, an African-American jazz musician and author, spoke to an audience of more than one hundred people about his unique experiences with the Ku Klux Klan in the Baker University Center Ballroom Thursday evening.

During the Black History Month event hosted by the Black Student Cultural Programming Board, Davis shocked audience members with tales of his encounters with the KKK and even held up the infamous robe and mask donned by its members to mixed reactions in the audience.

Davis began his speech by telling a childhood story about is first experience with racism in 1968. He described how he marched as the only black child in the Cub Scouts parade and was hit with bottles and debris from white spectators. Davis’ scout leaders shielded him from this torment, but it was not until he had a conversation with his parents that he understood the magnitude of his experience.

"My mom and dad never lied to me. But on this day in 1968, I thought my parents were liars," said Davis. "It made no sense that someone who had never laid eyes on me would want to inflict pain upon me."

Davis went on to receive a bachelor's degree in music from Howard University and later pursued a career as a musician. His curiosity about the KKK increased when he met a member of the hate group in the audience that complimented his piano playing. The relationship that Davis made with this audience member fostered his motivation to write a book about the Ku Klux Klan from the perspective of an African-American man.

"I could have never done what he did. It really made me think of everything in a much different way," said Tynita White, a graduate student at Ohio University.

Many of the people that Davis interviewed eventually became his friends and even quit the Klan. The most interesting of those friends was Roger Kelly, the notorious Grand Dragon state leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Davis set up a meeting with Kelly that began a series of conversations that would turn into a friendship.

"I rather like Roger Kelly, I just don't like what he stands for," said Davis. "What we did not have in common was how we felt about race. Other than that we agreed on a lot of things."

Davis went to his first KKK rally in 1983 and continued to document them as well as other KKK activities and interviews that are featured in his book, "Klan-Destine Relationships."

Davis championed conversation as a means to changing minds and recommended that everyone in attendance give their adversaries a platform and in turn they would get theirs.

"If I can just sit down and talk to people and get these results, so can you," said Davis. "If you're talking you're not fighting."

Davis warns that racism and other tensions can't be ignored in hopes for progress. He said they are cancers that will spread throughout society if not attacked.

Audience members left the talk with an understanding of what the KKK was like and a lesson on tolerance.

"It was very inspirational. It is a perfect example of how communication can overcome hatred because it brings understanding," said sophomore Zainab Kandeh.