58-year-old musician Daryl Davis has a very particular hobby. He has traveled around the US for almost three decades reaching out and in some cases, befriending white supremacists.
So far, he has managed to make some 200 KKK members abandon the innocuous organisation throughout the sheer power of kindness. According to Davis, he never really set out to convert anybody in the Klan. His quest just sprawled out of a simple question, “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?”
The seasoned bluesman, – who has played with artists of the likes of Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and even ex-president Bill Clinton – says music has been an essential tool to tear down ignorance and prejudice.
“Music absolutely played a massive role in bridging many gaps in the racial divides I would encounter,” he said. “Once when I was performing in a predominantly white venue, a white man approached me on my break and put his arm around me and exclaimed, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever heard a black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis.’
His stance of forgiveness through friendship is certainly a brave one. Davis has been criticised from within the African American community for years for his unconventional message of union in these times of great division.
“When you join the Mafia you do not snitch, you do not sell out your own. You will be killed. That’s their code. The police have their own—it’s called the blue wall of silence,” Davis began. The Klan similarly turns on those who betray the group, and the black community is no different.
“They could not see any value to what I was doing, which is fine,” he continued. “We all want the same thing, ultimately. But the only use for white people that he has is for those white people that would help him further his cause, or the black cause. I have use for everybody.”
Davis’ amazing story is the epicentre of ‘Accidental Courtesy’, a new documentary film directed by Matt Ornstein which premiered at the 2016 SXSW. The film is currently on the festival tour, having earned three awards and positive reviews by critics.