William G. and Rose M. Mays Martin Luther King Jr. Lectureship
Through the generosity of William G. and Rose M. Mays, this lectureship funds the annual keynote speaker during the University of Evansville’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
2014 Speaker: Daryl Davis, “Klan-Destine Relationships”
January 20, 2014
“After 148 years of nothing but violence and hatred, it's time we get to know one another on a social basis, not under a cover of darkness," explains award-winning pianist Daryl Davis of his extraordinary journey into the heart of one of America's most fanatical institutions, the Ku Klux Klan.
Having spent his early childhood in Europe and Africa, as the son of a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Davis didn't experience racism until he returned to the United States at age ten and was pelted with rocks, splintered bottles, and debris while carrying the American flag for his all-white Cub Scout troop at a parade near Belmont, Massachusetts. At fifteen he was jeered at and told by the head of the American Nazi Party that he would be shipped back to Africa, and in his twenties and thirties, already an up-and-coming musician, Davis was attacked by racist Baltimore City and Montgomery County, Maryland police officers.
Driven by the need to understand those who, without ever having met him, would hate him because of the color of his skin, Davis decided to seek out the roots of racism. His mesmerizing story, told in gritty words and startling photographs, is both harrowing and awe-inspiring.
Finding that the Klan is entrenched not only in the Deep South and across the U.S., but also in his own neighborhood, Davis sets out to meet Roger Kelly, Imperial Wizard of the Invincible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. After a cathartic first encounter at the end of which Kelly poses for pictures, as long as "we don't have to stand with our arms around each other," the two slowly form as close a friendship as a Black man and a Klansman can. Through Kelly and other Klan members from around the country, Davis begins to explore the Klan, gaining real insight into its workings and members' minds.
Using music to bridge the seemingly uncrossable gulf between the Klan's hatred and the Black man's rage, Davis travels an uncharted road filled with gripping highs and lows. Among them are bringing the Imperial Wizard to meet a Black woman upon whose lawn a cross was burned, seeking out a self-proclaimed White Supremacist Grand Dragon who, while claiming not to believe in violence, issues Davis a warning and predicts a race war saying, "Your uniform will be the color of your skin," and being attacked by two Klanswomen but defended in court by one Klansman. On the one hand, spat upon, kicked and threatened, and on the other, given a standing ovation at a Klan rally and deeded robes and hoods by those who decide to leave the organization after being influenced by Davis. Determined, Davis journeys on in his courageous quest into the heart of ignorance and hatred, as he believes, in a ray of hope for harmony between the races and the future of mankind.
“Our country is now truly becoming a melting pot as demonstrated by the many races and immigrants taking up U.S. citizenship,” Davis said. “We have elected a Black President. We are not in a post-racial society yet, but the tide is turning. We all must learn to surf with the tide or be swept away and drowned by swimming against it.”