One Man’s Quest To Conquer Hate … One Person At A Time

This is the post that I originally wrote for this week’s Good People post, but then I had second thoughts. I had quite an internal debate with myself about whether or not this man actually fit the profile.  In past posts to the category, I have highlighted people who gave of their time or money to help people in a more direct sort of way than this person is doing. I have also tried to avoid conflict, controversy and politics in my ‘good people’ posts. This is where my debate came into play.  I nearly scuttled this post altogether, but it kept nagging at me, and an inner voice told me I needed to write it. Mr. Daryl Davis has not adopted special needs kids, he has not set up foundations to help feed the poor, he has not built homes for people in need. What he has done that qualifies him for the designation ‘good people’ is quite different than the norm, yet I find it timely, in light of recent events.  So, I let my instincts lead the way, and while I have not included him in the ‘good people’ category, I want to share with you what Mr. Davis has done and is doing. So, please allow me to introduce to you R&B and blues musician, author, actor and bandleader, Mr. Daryl Davis!

Daryl Davis is a talented blues pianist who has played with the likes of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Percy Sledge and many others of Rock ‘n Roll, Jazz, Blues, and even Country music fame.  While it isn’t his music that is the focus of this post, it was music that opened the door for what he has done.  But first, let us go back just a bit to when Daryl was ten years old.

At age 10, Daryl joined a boy scout troop in Belmont, Massachusetts. He was the only black child in the troop, but that didn’t matter to the other kids, for they had not yet begun to see the world in terms of colour.  One day, young Daryl was proudly carrying the flag, with his troop, in a statewide parade to commemorate the ride of Paul Revere when the crowd began throwing rocks and bottles at him. His first thought was that perhaps the crowd did not like boy scouts.  But then he realized he was the only boy being targeted, and he soon found out that it was the colour of his skin that people did not like. This was Daryl’s introduction to racism, and it sparked a lifetime of curiosity about those attitudes, a curiosity that drove Daryl to do what he did, what he does.  And what, you ask, does he do?

The headline for the article in NPR reads:

How One Man Convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan Members To Give Up Their Robes

For the past 30 years, Davis, a black man, has spent time befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan. He says once the friendship blossoms, the Klansmen realize that their hate may be misguided. Since Davis started talking with these members, he says 200 Klansmen have given up their robes.

How did it start?  I shall let Mr. Davis explain in his own words:

“I was playing music — it was my first time playing in this particular bar called the Silver Dollar Lounge and this white gentleman approached me and he says, “I really enjoy you all’s music.” I thanked him, shook his hand and he says, “You know this is the first time I ever heard a black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis.” I was kind of surprised that he did not know the origin of that kind of music and I said, “Well, where do you think Jerry Lee Lewis learned how to play that kind of style?” He’s like, “Well, I don’t know.” I said, “He learned it from the same place I did. Black, blues, and boogie-woogie piano players.” That’s what that rockabilly, rock ‘n roll style came from.” He said, “Oh, no! Jerry Lee invented that. I ain’t ever heard no black man except for you play like that.” So I’m thinking this guy has never heard Fats Domino or Little Richard and then he says, “You know, this is the first time I ever sat down and had a drink with a black man?”

Well, now I’m getting curious. I’m trying to figure out, now how is it that in my 25 years on the face of this earth that I have sat down, literally, with thousands of white people, had a beverage, a meal, a conversation or anybody else, and this guy is 15 to 20 years older than me and he’s never sat down with a black guy before and had a drink. I said, “How is that? Why?” At first, he didn’t answer me and he had a friend sitting next to him and he elbowed him and said, “Tell him, tell him, tell him,” and he finally said, “I’m a member of the Ku Klux Klan.”

I just burst out laughing because I really did not believe him. I thought he was pulling my leg. As I was laughing, he pulled out his wallet, flipped through his credit cards and pictures and produced his Klan card and handed it to me. Immediately, I stopped laughing. I recognized the logo on there, the Klan symbol and I realized this was for real, this guy wasn’t joking. And now I’m wondering, why am I sitting by a Klansman?

But he was very friendly, it was the music that brought us together. He wanted me to call him and let him know anytime I was to return to this bar with this band. The fact that a Klansman and black person could sit down at the same table and enjoy the same music, that was a seed planted. So what do you do when you plant a seed? You nourish it. That was the impetus for me to write a book. I decided to go around the country and sit down with Klan leaders and Klan members to find out: How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”

That encounter happened in 1983, and since then Davis has made it his life’s mission to promote understanding, because as he says, “when two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting”. What he does may not seem like much to some, but in my mind, he is doing his part to change the attitudes of the bigots and haters, one person at a time, using words, music and intellect rather than rocks, bottles and cars as weapons.  Think about it for a minute … what if every one of us who believe people should not be judged by the colour of their skin were able to sit down with just one member of a white supremacist group and, through open, honest dialog, help that person to understand that we are all a part of the human race?

Before you say what I know you are thinking, no, I am not wearing rose-coloured glasses, am not a Pollyanna.  I realize that the majority of bigots will not be swayed by conversation alone, but I DO think some will.  Often hate and bigotry are based on a lack of understanding, a fear of that which is different.  Mr. Davis has set out to show that people, all people, are really not so different when you get down to the basics. I DO applaud Mr. Davis for the courage to do what he has done, and continues to do.  His approach is the very antithesis of what we see coming out of our own federal government today.

I cannot include the entire interview with Mr. Davis here, but it is well worth the 7 minutes to listen.

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/544861933/544891980

Conversely, you can read the interview transcript if you prefer.

My initial reason for thinking of Daryl Davis as a good person doing good things still stands … he is doing his part to remove hate from our society, one person at a time.  This is a man whose hand I would like to shake someday.

28 thoughts on “One Man’s Quest To Conquer Hate … One Person At A Time

  1. I think what Daryl Davis does is more difficult than what many think of as acts of ‘good.’ Standing straight and respectful and friendly-like next to racists and haters is no easy feat. Doing so with trust and, yes, a type of love and respect. Now that takes guts. This is a remarkable man, and I thank him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Superb post…This gentleman has echoes of an exceptional person….Nelson Mandela! Anyone who has had the privilege of knowing (meeting with) Mandela will sense something of Mandela’s conviction and commitment in Daryl. High praise, to be sure. Hugs! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Jill,
    If there is that one something that each of us can do who classify ourselves as non-haters is to reach out to someone who thinks differently. if the hater sees that there are good decent peoples who really do think differently, there is at least a seed planted.
    Recently. I almost blogged on a story where the God son to David Duke turned away from the White supremacy thinking that he had been raised to follow when a group of college students reached out in friendship to him where they had many discussions. Over time his thinking changed.
    It makes a difference. Kudos to Mr. Davis for making this his mission.

    Hugs, Gronda.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are so right, my friend, and it is something I need to do more of … reach out and listen, try to converse instead of lecturing.
      But tell me … what stopped you from writing the story of David Duke’s godson? I would love to read that one!
      We all need to remember that we are more effective when we converse than when we yell. I hope this lesson takes root around the nation and that more people plant and nurture seeds.
      Hugs!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It is the views expressed by other people that leads us to mistakenly believe they are not human. Who believes that the ISIS member who swings the axe and beheads an innocent is really human? and yet he is a human being , a member of homo sapiens.
    We are learning that the human mind can take up all sorts of positions and a glance back at history confirms the fact. We must stop calling those we disagree with morons , bigots, idiots , savages, and start using radicalized , misguided, brainwashed. My mind springs back to my very religious grandmother who often said ‘ there but for the grace of God go I ‘ at the time I though it was a foolish statement but I was the young fool. This man crossed the barrier and found a human being on the other side.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so very right! And I ask myself … in that first encounter with a member of the KKK, had I been in Mr. Davis’ shoes, how would I have reacted upon finding out the man was a klansman? Not, I am certain, as graciously as Mr. Davis did. A lesson or us all.

      Like

  5. What an inspiring and brave man he is! And I do think that this is the only way to get rid of racism and all its ugly relatives: by convincing people that we are all “just people”. This is the hard way of course, and it will take time, but, call me a hopeless optimist, I still believe that at one point we will succeed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, he is courageous and obviously has a good heart. And what he’s doing is making a difference. I am somewhat less of an optimist than you, as I look back throughout history and find that there has always been bigotry in one form or another, and the expression of bigotry is hatred. I guess I think that if we haven’t figured it out in all this time, what makes us think we ever will. But I love your optimism and it brings my mood up out of the rabbit hole just a bit! 🙂

      Like

  6. What an inspiring story and I would not only want to shake his hand but his parents who bought up such a wonderful insightful, caring man and one who may not be doing ” great things” but if we all did what he is doing in one form or another …Not in my life time but we would see a change

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I think this man is an excellent choice! He is doing what he can do to thwart the tide of racism — even though it may not be grand on the larger scale of things. He is an example to all of us: do what you can do within the close circle of your friends and acquaintances. I am impressed and join you in taking off my hat to a man who is truly courageous and caring — both good qualities.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Hugh! I agree … he is courageous and has a good heart. We will never know the total effect his words have had, for as David said, it is to be hoped that those whose minds he has changed will also work toward changing the minds of others. I’m glad there are people like him in the world and I shall try a bit harder to follow his example. My favourite line from the bit of the interview I posted was … “and what do you do when you plant a seed? You nourish it.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks!!! Yes, just like anything else, we must take one step, one person at a time. Love can conquer hate, but we are so inundated with hate and the noise it brings with it, that we sometimes forget that we must not become a part of the noise, of the hate. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, wouldn’t that be great if peace and love would spread with at least as much speed as hate does? I have tremendous respect for Mr. Davis … and yes, though it is unlikely I will ever meet him, if I do, I will shake his hand twice and tell him the second one is from a very special Welshman!

      xxx Cwtch xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for sharing. I’ve noted it in other platforms that one of the most disheartening parts about recent events is the ease one can fall into the category of combating hate with hate. Racism and bigotry are a cancer on society and must be stamped out…but…

    Really uplifting to hear a story about how love is combating hate; and doing so effectively. I don’t know if I would have the strength of character to do what he has done. So, even if I can’t personally befriend racists to turn them towards the light, I can applaud someone who can.

    I’ll have to check out the full interview and the Netflix Documentary on my Watch List later!
    –Cheers

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks Dan! Yes, it is an easy trap to fall into … responding to violence with violence, hate with hate. Hard as I try, I sometimes find myself wanting to lash out to the hate with my own rants, yet I know that is not the right way. Calm reasoning is far more effective. Mr. Davis is both intelligent and courageous and should be the example for us all.

      Cheers!!

      Liked by 1 person

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