KKK Member Walks up to Black Musician in Bar-but It’s Not a Joke, and What Happens Next Will Astound You

Daryl Davis is no ordinary musician. He’s played with President Clinton and tours the country playing “burnin’ boogie woogie piano” and sharing musical stylings inspired by greats like Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. He’s a highly respected and electrifying performer who is currently an integral member of The Legendary Blues Band (formerly known as the Muddy Waters Band,) and he rocks the stage all over the nation.

Davis’ travels, of course, have always afforded him the opportunity to meet a huge range of diverse people, but perhaps nothing could have prepared him for the moment that would change his life.

It was 1983 and Davis was playing country western music in an (informally) all-white lounge. He was the only black musician in the place and when his set was over, a man approached him. “He came up to me and said he liked my piano playing,” says Davis, “then he told me this was the first time he heard a black man play as well as Jerry Lee Lewis.” Davis, somewhat amused, explained to the man: “Jerry Lee learned to play from black blues and boogie woogie piano players and he’s a friend of mine. He told me himself where he learned to play.” At first, Davis says, the man was skeptical that Jerry Lee Lewis had been schooled by black musicians, but Davis went on to explain in more detail. “He was fascinated,” says Davis, “but he didn’t believe me. Then, he told me he was a Klansman.”

KKK, Daryl Davis

Daryl Davis poses with his friend Jerry Lee Lewis.

Most people in this day and age probably would have turned and ran right out of that good ol’ boy’s bar, but not Davis. He stayed and talked with the Klansman for a long time. “At first, I thought ‘why the hell am I sitting with him?’ but we struck up a friendship and it was music that brought us together,” he says.

That friendship would lead Davis on a path almost unimaginable to most folks. Today, Davis is not only a musician, he is a person who befriends KKK members and, as a result, collects the robes and hoods of Klansmen who choose to leave the organization because of their friendship with him.

The road to these close and authentic friendships, Davis says, involved a lot of learning on his part. He’d had racist experiences and had long wanted to write a book about race relations, but hadn’t had the opportunity to sit down and talk to a Klansman. His upbringing was extremely diverse, and his first experience with organized racism was a shock. He explains:

I was raised overseas in integrated schools. I had had a racist experience already but I didn’t know people organized into groups whose premise was to be racist and exclude other people. It seemed unfathomable to me. My parents were in the Foreign Service and I was an American embassy brat, going to international schools overseas. My classes were filled with anyone who had an embassy: Japanese, German, French, Italian. It was multicultural but that term did not exist at that time. For me it was just the norm. Every time I would come back (to the US,) I would see people separated by race. When my father was telling me about (the KKK) at the age of 10 it didn’t make any sense to me. I had always gotten along with everyone.

When Davis decided he needed to write a book about the KKK, he knew he had to find the friend he’d made in the country western bar. Davis tracked him down eight years after they had first met. “I went to his apartment unannounced,” Davis says. “He opens the door and sees me, and he says ‘Daryl! What are you doing here?’ He stepped out of his apartment and I stepped in. He said ‘what’s going on man? Are you still playing?’ I said ‘I need to talk to you about the Klan.’”

At first, his friend resisted, saying he would not give Davis the information he was seeking. “He would not do it because he was fearful,” Davis says. “He thought I would be killed. I said ‘well give me the guy’s number and address.’ He finally gave me Roger Kelly’s number and address but he told me: ‘don’t go to his house; meet him in a public place.’” Davis immediately began making plans to approach Kelly, who at the time was the leader of the KKK in Maryland.

“My secretary called him,” Davis says, “and I told her, ‘do not tell Roger Kelly I’m black. Just tell him I am writing a book on the Klan.’ I wanted her to call because she’s white. I knew enough about the mentality of the Klan that they would never think a white woman would work for a black man. She called him and he didn’t ask what color I was, so we arranged to meet at a motel.”

That meeting, says Davis, was fraught with tension from the start. Kelly arrived at the motel with a nighthawk-a bodyguard dressed in military style fatigues-complete with a firearm.

We met at a motel, and I sent my secretary down the hall to get an ice bucket and sodas so I could offer Mr. Kelly a beverage. The room, by coincidence, was set up so that if the door opened, you could not see who was inside…Right on time there’s a knock on the door. A bodyguard dressed in military gear comes in with a KKK beret and a gun on his hip. Mr. Kelly is directly behind him in a dark blue suit. The bodyguard comes in and sees me and freezes in his tracks. Mr. Kelly trips and slams into him like they were dominoes.

I saw the apprehension so I got up and walked over and said ‘Hi Mr. Kelly, come on in.’ He shook my hand, the bodyguard shook my hand, and they came in. Mr. Kelly sits down and the bodyguard stands at his right. He asked for identification and I handed him my drivers’ license. He says ‘oh you live on Flack Street in Silver Spring.’ Well, I didn’t need him coming to my house and burning a cross or whatever, and here he is calling off my street address. I wanted to let him know not to come to my house so I said ‘yes, and you live at…’ and I said his street address. I made it clear-’let’s confine our visit to this hotel room.’
But I had no reason to be concerned. One of his Klan members lived right down the street from me. It was coincidence.

The tension, however, continued, Davis says, and eventually reached a fever pitch.

Every time my cassette would run out of tape, I would reach down into my bag and pull out another. Every time I reached down, the bodyguard would reach for his gun. He didn’t know what was in the bag. After a while he relaxed and realized nothing was in the bag but cassettes and the bible. After about an hour, there was a very loud, strange noise which was ominous, and I was apprehensive. In the back of my mind, I heard my friend in my head saying ‘Mr. Kelly will kill you.’ I stood up and slammed my hands on the table, and I felt my life was in danger. When my hands hit the table, my eyes locked with his, and he could read them. We stared into each other’s eyes. The bodyguard was looking back and forth at us, but then my secretary Mary realized what had happened.

The ice bucket had melted and the cans of soda shifted, and that’s what made the noise! We all began laughing at how stupid we all had been. In retrospect, it was a very important lesson that was taught. All because a foreign entity of which we were ignorant, entered into our comfort zone, we became fearful of each other. The lesson learned is: ignorance breeds fear. If you don’t keep that fear in check, that fear will breed hatred. If you don’t keep hatred in check it will breed destruction.

After that defining moment, the meeting was much more relaxed. Davis became friends with Kelly and eventually went on to befriend over 20 members of the KKK. He has collected at least that many robes and hoods, which he has hanging in his closet. He also is viewed as being responsible for dismantling the entire KKK in Maryland because things “fell apart” after he began making inroads with its members there.

KKK, Daryl Davis

Daryl Davis poses with robes and hoods given to him by KKK members.

He says that KKK members have many misconceptions about black people, which stem mostly from intense brainwashing in the home. When the Klansmen get to know him, he says, it becomes impossible for them to hold on to their prejudices. He explains:

This Klansman and I were riding around in my car and the topic of crime came up. He made the remark that all black people had a gene that makes us violent. I said ‘Gary, what are you talking about?’ He said ‘Who’s doing all the shootings?’ I said ‘let me tell you something, I am as black as anyone you’ve ever seen and I’ve never done a drive by or a shooting.’ After a time I said ‘you know, it’s a fact that all white people have within them a gene that makes them serial killers. Name me three black serial killers.’ He could not do it. I said ‘you have the gene. It’s just latent.’ He said ‘well that’s stupid’ I said ‘it’s just as stupid as what you said to me.’ He was very quiet after that and I know it was sinking in.

Davis also became close with Robert White, a Grand Dragon in the KKK. “I respect someone’s right to air their views whether they are wrong or right,” Davis says. “Robert White was a Grand Dragon who had gone to prison numerous times. I said I wanted to interview him for my book. At first, he was very violent and very hateful but we talked for a long time. Over time, he began thinking about a lot of things he had done and said that were wrong. He quit the Klan. Toward the end he said he would follow me to hell and back. …and he gave me his robe and hood, and his police uniform.”

Davis recounts his experiences with the KKK in his book Klan-Destine Relationships. He says his friendships are real and intimate, and that he does typical things with his friends who are in the Klan. He has even served as a pallbearer at a Klansman’s funeral and attended another’s wedding. When asked about the fear many people feel when confronted with images of KKK members, he says “It’s just material. You have to address what’s in the person head and in their heart.”

Indeed, Davis says that the best way to break down barriers and improve race relations is for two people who disagree with each other to sit down and talk:

A lot of people have anti-racist groups. They get together and meet and have a diverse group and all they do and sit around and talk about how bad discrimination is. Then someone says ‘there’s a Klan group across town. Why don’t we invite them to come and talk to us?’ and the other person says ‘Oh no! We don’t want that guy here!’ Well, you’re doing the exact same thing they are. What’s the purpose of meeting with each other when we already agree? Find someone who disagrees and invite them to your table.

Invite your enemy to talk. Give them a platform to talk because then they will reciprocate. Invite your enemies to sit down and join you. You never know; some small thing you say might give them food for thought, and you will learn from them. Establish dialogue. It’s when the talking stops that the ground becomes fertile for fighting.

Davis currently keeps busy by playing in his band and touring the country giving lectures. He is planning a second follow-up book to Klan-Destine Relationships. He says there’s no need to be afraid of the KKK because at least they make their intentions clear, whereas racism can manifest in anyone, and it is often invisible. He urges those who wish to combat racism to reach out to those who have misconceptions about race.

“When two enemies are talking,” he says, “they’re not fighting.”

By: Rebecca Savastio


Interview with Daryl Davis

Daryl Davis.com

313 Responses to KKK Member Walks up to Black Musician in Bar-but It’s Not a Joke, and What Happens Next Will Astound You

  1. Roy Coniglio January 12, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    When I was a kid a very wise woman told me that she had never seen a black person, nor had she ever seen a white person. Every person she had ever seen was some shade of brown and she refused to define people any finer than that. I have always lived by that reasoning.

  2. Cynde Grieve January 11, 2014 at 4:28 am

    Wisdom for the world, thank you. “When two enemies are talking, they are not fighting.” Hello out there!

  3. Steve Hester January 8, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Awesome….I choked up as I read it! I am a “White Blues Musician” and have lots of Black friends as well as every other Race Creed etc! Buddy Guy’s Skin Deep comes to Mind!

  4. jay January 7, 2014 at 11:45 am

    Why do the people who have to deal with devils and racist have to always be the bigger person…. i say death to all of them…anyway time will also tell the tell about who’s genes are superior than the others…you don’t get white from black….black trumps all colors….you put black in anything in natural and it will be black…..

    • fedewein January 8, 2014 at 7:35 am

      Jay, they don’t have to be the bigger person, they ALREADY ARE the bigger person, unlike you I’m afraid…

    • federico January 10, 2014 at 8:51 pm

      Actually, you move further away from the black of the “blackness” added, and further away from the white of the “whiteness” added, into something between the two, usually. What you’re saying is propaganda aimed at making one race (your own, presumably) feel better, and the other (the white one, presumably) feel worse. The “purity” of each gets diluted. But that is only a bad thing if you think that the other part of the mix is bad.

    • G February 13, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      Because any time you want a problem solved or an ignorance erased, SOMEONE has to be the bigger person and take time to educate and solve that problem!!!! You can’t erase ignorance with hate, it only breeds more ignorance!!!!! ON BOTH SIDES.

      • Joel February 13, 2014 at 3:10 pm

        Very Good!!!

  5. HimeKika December 24, 2013 at 8:16 am

    This was wonderful to read

  6. Jerry Brown December 10, 2013 at 10:45 am

    “The lesson learned is: ignorance breeds fear. If you don’t keep that fear in check, that fear will breed hatred. If you don’t keep hatred in check it will breed destruction.”

    Thank you for the wisdom.

  7. Erika Zaas December 9, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    “I was raised overseas in integrated schools. I had had a racist experience already but I didn’t know people organized into groups whose premise was to be racist and exclude other people. It seemed unfathomable to me.” um, ADOLF HITLER…!

    • tim April 11, 2014 at 2:34 pm

      Cut him some slack. He went to government schools.

  8. Aggie L December 8, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    I have not held out much hope that race relations can improve until the racists die out, but you’ve shown me that might not have to be. Thank you.

  9. Alex prentice December 8, 2013 at 9:29 am

    @Agni Ashwin: best comment ever. as for the article. I loved it.

  10. vood lamont December 7, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    I call B.S. on this story. All these black loving, White guilt comments are pathetic.

    • Daja December 8, 2013 at 5:34 am

      @vood lamont God loves everyone. Even bitter racist such as yourself.

  11. marsha sumal December 5, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    Well recently,some very famous bigot had his DNA run and it determined him to be 16%
    black. It didn’t make him a different person in this world, just a bit wiser and feeling rather stupid. Just goes to show you.

  12. Lorie Frith Hood December 5, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I am also very impressed with his courage, determination, his willingness to face the unknown, making plans to face unknown territory of the KKK. My belief is we are all created equally in God’s eyes and color of anyone’s skin does not dictate charater, moral, beliefs, kindness toward others, honesty, and such. I am white and love people of all nationalities, because I know my God loves them. I am proud of you Davis and I truly believe you are an instrument God is allowing to break racist barriors. GOD BLESS YOU AND KEEP YOU SAFE

  13. Deserttrek December 5, 2013 at 11:12 am

    An interesting piece that does a good job of looking into people, and not the mindset. Humans can get along once they stop listening to and being influenced by others. Sadly society and a corrupt political and educational system will never let things rest.

  14. thrushjz December 5, 2013 at 10:31 am

    I’m a half breed, white, Hispanic, and Chinese (yes, that’s correct) I’ve been a performing Sax/flute player since the late 70′s, I’ve played and toured with some of the biggest names in Music, (Abraham Laboriel, John Tesh, Johnny Rivers, Cactus Moser Wynonnas husband and drummer), I’ve seen racism of all kinds, from whites in the south, to a Hispanic preacher who cursed at a trumpet player and myself at an event in L.A., racism knows no color, Blacks who think it’s only whites that are racist know themselves that’s not true, and Hispancs that say whites are the only racists are not speaking the truth, how do I know this?, because I have Hispanic relatives myself that are some of the most racist people I’ve ever met, Yes, I’ve met white racists in the south in my travels as a musician, but, and if people are truly honest,they know that it’s not just white people that can be very racist…

  15. Erika Lutz-Stokes December 4, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    I can’t express how impressed I am with this amazing man. I am definitely picking up his book!

  16. robert December 4, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Nice to see an American not reacting to racism. He taught them something.

    • kayla December 4, 2013 at 3:03 pm

      pretty sure you missed the point… now you’re just polluting this inspriring story with prejudice against americans. Maybe you should re-read the article.

      • Anthony Tosspon December 5, 2013 at 2:44 pm

        Actually, it’s kinda true. I don’t see robert there as insulting us *american here* You don’t have to not know something to be taught it.

  17. Pavlo December 4, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    What a great story. Daryl Davis you are something special!

  18. Ella December 4, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    my father always says, “when encountered with a battle of wit, make sure the other person is armed.” I finally know what it means

  19. lwmomma December 4, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    I am absolutely impressed with this article. It give us such hope that people’s opinions and thoughts can be changed. After all it s a learned or trained thought process. Although it still exist, barriers are being broken in racism. It’s so sad for children and adults slike to be held back because of ignorance. Keep up the great work Mr Davis. Can’t wait to read the book.

  20. snakeman December 4, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    look i know a few KKK memebers and there really not all that bad i also have black cousins and a brother in law who is black along with a niece who is half black and the memebers of the KKK that i know also know my family and nobody has died i think everyone has the wrong idea about the KKK

    • kkvictoria December 4, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      No one has died is the standard someone has to uphold?

      I mean really, it’s a bigger social issue than that, but for real? They’re okay because they haven’t killed us yet is auuhh… A pretty low standard, you know?

    • Bracken December 4, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      It’s hard for me to read posts riddled with gramatical, punctuation, and spelling errors and take the person who wrote them seriously. You should really read over your responses once before posting them.

      • Miers December 5, 2013 at 6:17 am

        It is kind of like the pot calling the kettle black, don’t you think Bracken? It’s grammatical, not ‘gramatical’ o ye professor of English.

  21. seanboud December 3, 2013 at 7:51 am

    I served in the military with some Klansmen who became former Klansmen as a result of having to live and work with people they were taught to hate.

    One of them told me how he liked visiting home less and less because of the ignorance of his family and how ashamed he was of it and them since they remained in the Klan.

    I don’t think the military gets enough credit for this, but that’s just my opinion.

  22. Raju Charles December 2, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Jesus loves all the people! Jesus saves!!! what would Jesus say or do to KKA? Go and fight evils and defeat! Do good! Be a Missionary!

  23. Edgar December 1, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    He’s insane! More power to him. Would love to meet this dude…can’t wait to read the book!

  24. KiminHouston November 30, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Very interesting read. That is one brave man with a good heart. Eradicating prejudice one wrong stereotype at a time…

  25. Nancy November 29, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Predjudice is ignorance. I’m in an a inter-racial marriage. My husband has changed so many people’s minds just by talking to them….

  26. richard November 28, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    why did they kill brian off of family guy

  27. richard November 28, 2013 at 7:35 pm


  28. richard November 28, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    ur gay

    • jeremy\ December 4, 2013 at 9:53 am

      you obviously retarded

  29. Bill Dailey November 28, 2013 at 7:27 am

    I heard Daryl tell this story at Blues Week in Elkins, WV and he has so much forgiveness in his heart but Louisiana Red said he had let these fellows off to easy because when he was a young boy he came home from school and found his mom and dad dead in the back yard !
    Bill Dailey

  30. Blaq Luv (@JExtroidinaire) November 27, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Ephesians 6:12 http://youtu.be/MYF7H_fpc-g :)

  31. Jay Ackovic November 26, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    Name 3 black serial killers? That’s easy.

    Matthew Emanuel Macon, Shelly Brooks, Jervon Miguel Coleman, Brian Ranard Davis, Paul Durousseau, Mark Goudeau, Coral Eugene Watts, Anthony McKnight, Derrick Todd Lee, Charles Lendelle Carter, The Zebra Killings, Chester Turner, Lorenzo J. Gilyard, Eugene Victor Britt, Reginald and Jonathan Carr, Ray Joseph Dandridge & Ricky Javon Gray, Henry Louis Wallace, Charles Johnston, Craig Price, Harrison Graham, Charles Lee “Cookie” Thornton, Darnell Hartsfeld & Romeo Pinkerton… I could go on all day. All black, all serial killers.

    • Valentine Logar November 27, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      Many on your list are not Serial Killers. Many are spree killers, contract killers, members of gangs, members of religious organizations. While some of course are Serial Killers, I am just wondering why you lump them all together?

    • Андреа Јовановић November 28, 2013 at 12:57 am

      What’s your point? Honestly? Most people couldn’t name you that many serial killers full stop, and he knew at the time that the Klansman in question wouldn’t be able to. Your encylopedic knowledge of serial killers isn’t really relevant – only the point behind his question was.

    • John Howard Hughes November 28, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      I think I smell a troll

    • Boe November 29, 2013 at 2:07 am

      *Clap Clap* You managed to look up a list of what you thought were black serial killers…. moron

    • Daja December 8, 2013 at 5:22 am

      You missed the point. The point he was trying to make is all white people are not serial killers & all black people are not doing drive by’s.

  32. MVVT November 26, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    “We share the same Biology, Regardless of Ideaology!” (Sting)

  33. Charles Sproles November 26, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    KKK has gone from what it once was thought of being. I grew up in the deep south where KKK were very prevalent and for burning crosses and the like. Many times going to school we would see crosses burning in yards we knew to be of black folk. they (KKK) are no longer of that type. Yes there are skinheads that proclaim to be KKK and spout hatred for all that are not white so to speak and they do nothing but try to put fear into all those that don’t fit. Try doing that with that type people or better yet since it is a race thing now find a mala noche king pin and try talking to him also.

  34. Jay November 26, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    How did I know that the Klansman was going to be from Maryland? Seriously.

  35. secret November 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    and then Obama comes and promotes racial divide.

    • Jack Stevens December 2, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      No he didn’t. Obama came and racists freaked out. Remember Obama was the one who set up the beer summit, and said we should talk about race. That’s fighting against racial divide. I mean for crying out loud he’s half-white and half-black! I disagree with a lot of the things he’s done but the one thing he’s done right is handling race, which makes sense since his parents wouldn’t even have been able to get married not too long ago. The only people who have promoted racial divide during his presidency are white racists who can’t handle the fact that our country is becoming more diverse.

      • Jacqueline December 3, 2013 at 10:42 pm

        Very well spoken

      • Bruce December 4, 2013 at 10:25 am

        And Obama is 100% American. Now the birthers are going after his kids to de-legitimize them! They need to get a life.

  36. Jill Anderson November 26, 2013 at 10:13 am

    This is the real work of being a good human. What an awesome and nervy thing to do! He is operating straight from the heart. What a daring and
    moral approach to solving a world problem.


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