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The man with the Klan: Daryl Davis' unorthodox approach to racial reconciliation

Daryl Davis
Daryl Davis
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How can you hate me if you don't even know me? That question has been a driving force in Daryl Davis' life.

Davis is a musician, he's black, and he spends much of his free time befriending members of the Ku Klux Klan. He even collects their ceremonial robes.

His story is told in the new documentary, "Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America."

Director Matthew Ornstein and Daryl Davis himself spoke recently with Take Two's Alex Cohen.


Daryl, this is an unconventional tactic, to say the least, and something you've done now for years and years. When did this idea come to mind for you? 

You know, I think the embryo for this strategy has always been with me because I grew up as the child of U.S. diplomats, so it was my father's job to be overseas in foreign countries bettering relationships with foreign governments. I simply have now applied it in my own country to people who may not necessarily have good relationships between the races. 

Daryl Davis
Daryl Davis
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You've done this for a while now, so you're kind of used to it. You seem comfortable and confident when you meet with members of the KKK. But what about at the very beginning. Were you scared or nervous at all? This could have worked out in an entirely different way. 

No, I was not fearful of them at all. It wasn't so much courage as it was curiosity. I had already read — literally — every book written on the Klan. I have a vast library of those books. So I had a vast knowledge of the subject and so I went in there armed with my knowledge. Believe it or not, the best way to put somebody at ease or bring them to a level of trust is to know as much if not more about them than they know about themselves or the organization to which they belong. 

Matt, this is going to come off like a bad joke, but what's a nice Jewish boy doing coming along and filming all of this? Daryl talks about coming in having done all of his homework, but the KKK, they don't really care for Jewish people either. Were you nervous at all?

I think there's a long and glorious history of Jewish and black people making questionable alliances in the name of advancing civil rights, so it's the least I can do, I suppose. 

But not sitting down with the KKK. Did you have any trepidations? 

Everyone's very media savvy now, and I think know they will ultimately be judged by history. It's important to remember that these people believe that history will judge them correctly, just as much as we feel that making this movie will ultimately show us to be the correct side. They feel like everyone else will probably look foolish when they watch this movie in 50 years. 

Daryl Davis displays KKK flag.
Daryl Davis displays KKK flag.
Courtesy of

Daryl, if you were to give at least one piece of advice to listeners hearing this now who think, "I want to sit across the table and have my own Daryl Davis kind of conversation," what advice would you give?

When two enemies are talking, they are not fighting. They may be yelling and screaming at each other and disagreeing and pounding their fists on the table to make a point, but at least they're talking. It's when the talking ceases that the ground becomes fertile for violence, so always keep the conversation going. 

"Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America" is playing in LA at the Los Feliz Theatre.

Press the blue play button above to hear the full conversation.