Photograph by Daryl Davis.

How to Overcome Prejudice

How to Overcome Prejudice

A few short stories from Daryl Davis's quest to determine the source of the hate, and how he became the godfather of former KKK Imperial Wizard Roger Kelly’s granddaughter.
Sermon length:
Daryl David | TED





Eunice Tan, Translator Tanya Cushman, Reviewer

00:18 Well, this is a police officer's uniform - a Baltimore City police officer, in particular, named Robert White. He gave me this uniform when he and I became the very best of friends. But, you know, I first met Robert - well, I first heard about Robert White when I was a teenager, and then I later met him. I met him just a month after he got out of prison. He was in prison, serving a sentence for assault with intent to murder two black men, with a shotgun, and another sentence - conspiring to bomb a synagogue in Baltimore.

Now, I am a professional musician. I tour all over this country and around the world, playing music. So how do I end up with a policeman's uniform? He worked for the police department by day. But he also had another job, which required a different kind of uniform. He was the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan for the State of Maryland. This is his robe. This is what he wore when he conspired to bomb the synagogue and when he made plans to kill two black men, with a shotgun.

To understand why I have these items, let's take a little journey back in my life. I was born in Chicago in 1958. At the age of 10, in 1968, my parents had moved to Belmont, Massachusetts - a suburb of Boston. I was one of two black kids in the entire area - at least in the school. I joined the Cub Scouts at the age of 10 at the invitation of some of my white, male friends. And we had a march from Lexington to Concord to commemorate the ride of Paul Revere. My den mother let me carry the American flag. And as I was marching as the only black scout in this parade, along with the Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Brownies - I think 4-H Club was there and some other organizations - as I was marching down the street, somewhere along the parade route, I began getting hit with bottles, soda pop cans, rocks, and debris from the street by just a small group of white spectators mixed in with the all-white crowd on the sidewalk.

This was the first time I ever experienced anything like this, and I did not understand. I thought perhaps those people did not like the Scouts. I did not realize I was the only Scout getting hit until my den mother and the other scout leaders came rushing over and huddled over me with their bodies and escorted me out of the danger. They never explained why, even though I kept asking, "Why are they hitting me? Why are they hitting me?" What had I done wrong? When I got home, my mother and father, who were not at the march, were fixing me up with Mercurochrome and Band-Aids and asking me, "How did you fall down and get all scraped up?" I told them, "I didn't fall down." I told them exactly what happened. For the first time in my life, my parents sat me down, at the age of 10, and explained racism to me. I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. It was inconceivable to me that someone who had never laid eyes on me, never spoken to me, knew absolutely nothing about me would want to inflict pain upon me for no other reason than this: the color of my skin. So I did not believe my parents. But more and more incidents began happening, and I realized my parents had told me the truth. I didn't know why people felt that way, but I realized that there were some people who did. So at the age of 10, I formed a question in my mind. That question was "How can you hate me when you don't even know me?"

So I grew up, in my adolescent years, spending a lot of time buying books on black supremacy, white supremacy, the Nazis in Germany, the neo-Nazis over here, the Ku Klux Klan, anti-Semitism - trying to understand that ideology, trying to get the answer to my question: "How can you hate me when you don't even know me?" None of these books provided the answer.

So then, in my adult life, I thought, you know what? Who better to ask "How can you hate me when you don't even know me?" than someone who would join an organization whose historical premise has been hating those who do not look like them and who do not believe as they believe. So I had my secretary, who books my bands and all that kind of stuff - I said, "Listen, I want you to get a hold of this guy. His name is Roger Kelly." I acquired Mr. Kelly's phone number. Mr. Kelly is what's known as the imperial wizard. Bob White was a grand dragon, meaning state leader. Imperial wizard is a national leader in the Ku Klux Klan. I was told, "Do not fool with Mr. Kelly, Daryl. He will kill you." But I had to have the answer to my question, and I was hoping it wouldn't be the final answer if I met him. So I gave Mary his phone number and said, "Give him a call. Do not tell him that I'm black. But see if he'll sit down and give your boss an interview - he wants to discuss the Ku Klux Klan." So she did. Mr. Kelly agreed. So we reserved a motel room. Mary and I got there early. Right on time, to the minute, there was a knock on the door.

Mary hops up and runs around the corner, opens the door. In walks Mr. Kelly and his bodyguard. The bodyguard was armed with a sidearm right here on his hip. When they saw me, they just kind of like froze because they were expecting a white guy. I stood up and went like this to show I had nothing in my hands, and I approached. I said, "Hi, Mr. Kelly, I'm Daryl Davis." He shook my hand; the bodyguard shook my hand. I said, "Come on in, have a seat, have a seat." Mr. Kelly sat down, and the bodyguard stood at attention to his right. And we conversed - agreed on some things, disagreed on other things. But he let me know - he let me know that I was not his equal. I was inferior; he was superior. And this was justified and determined by the color of my skin. I wasn't there to fight him; I was there to learn from him: where does this ideology come from? Because once you learn where it comes from, you can then try to figure out how to address it and see where it's going. So we continued conversing.

Maybe about a little over an hour into this interview, there's kind of a strange noise in the room, kind of (unidentified sound), and we all jumped. And I popped up out of my seat. There was a table between us, and I was ready to come across that table and take down Mr. Kelly and the bodyguard because I knew that Mr. Kelly had made that noise. I didn't know what that noise was; I could not discern it. I kept hearing the voice of the person who gave me his number, saying, "Daryl, do not fool with Roger Kelly - he will kill you." I did not want to die that day, but I knew he'd made the noise, and I'm thinking, "What did I just do, what did I just say to cause him to make some kind of weird noise?"

And, you know, I'd gone into what you call survival mode. In survival mode, people will do one of three things. Some people, when you fear for your life - some people will just tense up and start shaking. And you can be taking a hammer or a bat and hitting them on the head, and they won't even deflect the blows - just be mm-mm-mm like this. That is called paralysis by fear, and it is a real thing. The second thing people will do is they will try to run away as quickly as possible to put as much distance between the source of the fear and themselves. That is the best option if you can do that. However, it was not an option for me, because you cannot outrun a bullet in a motel room. I was not armed, neither was my secretary. The only person I know for sure who was armed was the bodyguard - you could see his weapon right here. I did not know if Mr. Kelly had a weapon up under his jacket or not. He was wearing a dark blue suit and tie. The third option is do a preemptive strike to mitigate the danger. In other words, get them before they get you. So I was about to do that. And when I came up out of my seat, I was looking right into Mr. Kelly's eyes. I didn't say a word, but my eyes were speaking loud and clear. In fact, my eyes were shouting so loud, he could hear my eyes. My eyes were saying to him, "What did you just do?"

Well, Mr. Kelly's eyes had fixated upon mine, and his eyes were silently asking me the same question while the bodyguard had his hand on his gun, looking back and forth between the Klan leader and me, like, "What did either one of y'all just do?" Well, Mary - she realized what happened. She had filled the hotel room ice bucket with ice and put some cans of soda in there to get them cold, to be hospitable and offer Mr. Kelly a beverage. The ice had melted, and the cans came cascading down the ice, and then it made that same noise. And we all began laughing at how ignorant we all had been. Now, I won't say this was a learning moment, but it was definitely a teaching moment. And what was taught was this: all because some "foreign" - and underscore, highlight, circle the word "foreign" - entity of which we were ignorant - being the bucket of ice and cans of soda - entered into our little comfort zone via the noise that it made, we all became fearful and accusatory of one another. Thus, ignorance breeds fear. We fear those things we do not understand. If we do not keep that fear in check, that fear, in turn, will breed hatred because we hate those things that frighten us. If we do not keep that hatred in check, that hatred, in turn, will breed destruction. We want to destroy those things that we hate. Why? Because they cause us to be afraid. But guess what? They may have been harmless, and we were just ignorant.

We saw the whole chain almost unravel to completion had the bodyguard drawn his gun and shot namely me or my secretary because it's his job to protect his boss and protect himself or had I pounced and hurt one of them, trying to protect myself or my secretary. We did see - we did see that whole chain unravel to completion three months ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, two hours from where I live. Because ignorance was present, fear was present, hatred was present, and destruction occurred when a white supremacist got in his car and tried to mow down people and resulted in killing one young lady named Heather Heyer.

So we carried on with this interview. No more incidents. I would invite Mr. Kelly to my home. He would come to my home. He'd bring his bodyguard, who would sit on the couch next to him. Sometimes the bodyguard would get bored, pull out his gun, and twirl it around like this while Mr. Kelly and I talked. I would invite over some of my other friends - my Jewish friends, my black friends, my white friends, other people - just to engage in conversation with Mr. Kelly. Other than me, I wanted him to experience different people. This went on for a couple of years. He did not invite me to his home, but he would have dinner or lunch at my table with me - this inferior person that he deemed not his equal.

After a couple of years, he began coming down to my house by himself - a national leader in the Ku Klux Klan. And then he began inviting me to his house. I would see his Klan den, and I would take pictures and take notes for my own knowledge and things. Then he began inviting me to Klan rallies. I'd go to these Klan rallies that have a 20- or 30-foot wooden cross - two beams tied together, wrapped in burlap. The burlap was soaked in what they call "Klan cologne," otherwise known as diesel fuel or kerosene. And Klansmen and Klanswomen in their robes and hoods and torches would parade around in a circle around the cross, and the grand dragon or imperial wizard would say, "Klansmen, halt!" And they'd all stop. Then he'd say, "For God!" And they'd say "For God!" "For race!" "For race!" "For country!" "For country!" "Klansmen, approach the cross!" And they'd all close in to the base of the cross. "Klansmen, light the cross!" And they'd throw their torch down at the foot and whoosh! This big cross would be on fire.

There you go - there's one such rally with a Klansman. That's conversing with the Klan at a rally. And there's a rally with the cross on fire. Now, they would give speeches. I would take more notes and try to absorb and try to understand - not that I'm believing in what they're preaching, but I'm trying to learn and understand what is the impetus for it.

So after a while, CNN got wind of this and wanted to do a story on me. They knew me as a musician; they knew who Mr. Kelly was as a Klan leader. So they followed me to a rally. First, they came to my gig on Friday night to show what I really do. Then Saturday morning, they followed me to a Klan rally two hours from my house. And they said to me, "Do you think Mr. Kelly will even talk to us?" I said, "I will do better than that. When this rally is over, I will get Mr. Kelly, the imperial wizard of the Klan, to come to my house, and you can interview the Klan leader inside a black man's house." They said, "Oh, okay." (Laughter) So they filmed the rally. And when the rally was over, I spoke with Roger Kelly, told him what was going on, and he agreed. He drove, without his bodyguard, two hours out of his way, sat in my basement and interviewed with CNN. And this clip was shown every hour for 24 hours all over the world. I'm going to show it to you now, and I want you to pay particular attention to what Mr. Kelly says. He says that even though he and I would do different things together, it did not change his views on the Klan, because his views on the Klan had been cemented in his mind for years. Then he goes on to say how he believes in separation of the races because he finds that to be in the best interests of all races. But listen to what he says about respect, towards the end of the clip. Please show the clip.

(Video) Carl Rochelle: Davis is one of the few African-Americans you will ever find attending a KKK rally. More than attending, he is welcome. Roger Kelly: I've got more respect for that black man than I do you white n*ggers out there. (Shouting) CR: It's been a tough day for the Klan. Their Maryland rally found many local residents rejecting the message of white separatism. After it's over, Daryl Davis hangs around backstage with his friend, Klan wizard Roger Kelly. It's not unusual for blacks and whites to be friends, but it is unusual to find a black man and a Klan leader chatting pleasantly over an orange soda after a Klan rally. The relationship started over a book Davis was writing. His secretary set up an interview with Roger Kelly but didn't tell him Davis was black. They talked, and talked some more - Davis learning about the Klan, Kelly learning about Davis.

RK: We get to know one another, and we do different things. It hasn't changed my views about the Klan because my views on the Klan have been pretty much cemented in my mind for years.

CR: Kelly and his Klan friends go to hear Davis and his band. (Music) And Davis goes to their rallies. Daryl Davis: I sat on the front row, and I listened to each of the Klansmen speak. Some things I agreed with; other things I did not.

CR: Davis thinks that his presence promotes badly needed understanding. DD: Hate stems, I believe, from fear - a fear of the unknown. And I think this is all across the board, regardless of whether it's a Klansman or anything else.

CR: But he has no illusions about the Klan. If he did, his friend would be quick to disabuse them. RK: I believe in separation of the races. That's in the best interest of all races.

17:34 CR: Does he really? Or has friendship transcended the color barrier? Listen to Kelly at a Klan rally. RK: I'd follow that man to hell and back because I believe in what he stands for and he believes in what I stand for. We don't agree with everything, but at least he respects me to sit down and listen to me, and I respect him to sit down and listen to him. (Shouting) CR: The strange relationship of a KKK wizard and his black buddy. In Washington, I'm Carl Rochelle. CNN, Sunday morning.

(Onstage) Respect is the key. Sitting down and talking - not necessarily agreeing - but respecting each other to air their points of view. Because of that respect and my willingness to listen and his willingness to listen to me, he ended up leaving the Klan, and there's his robe right there. I am a musician, not a psychologist or sociologist. If I can do that, anybody in here can do that. Take the time to sit down and talk with your adversaries. You'll learn something; they'll learn something. When two enemies are talking, they're not fighting - they're talking. It's when the talking ceases that the ground becomes fertile for violence. So keep the conversation going. Thank you all very much. (Applause)


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