When musician Daryl Davis first met a member of the Ku Klux Klan he was the only black man in a country band. They were playing a gig at an all-white venue in Frederick, Maryland. After their set, a member of the audience approached Davis to compliment his piano skills, saying he'd never heard a black pianist play like Jerry Lee Lewis. "Who do you think taught Jerry Lee Lewis to play that way?" Davis replied. They hit it off. The patron wanted to buy Davis a drink, and soon after he observed that he'd never in his life had a drink or conversed with a black man.
"Why is that?"
"I'm a member of the Ku Klux Klan."
At first Davis thought he was joking. But the man pulled out his wallet and produced his Klan card. Later he wrote down his phone number. He asked Davis to call him the next time he played the Silver Dollar Lounge. He'd come out to watch.
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That meeting happened in 1983. It has been recounted in several interviews and a book, but I first heard about it this year while listening to the interview podcast Love+Radio. There is no substitute for hearing Davis tell the story in a his own words.
Those words came back to me this week as I reflected on an ongoing controversy: what to make of the notion that we need to have "a conversation about race." Lately, that debate has focused on a flawed plan by the CEO of Starbucks to host in-store conversations. But disagreements on the subject are much older. I believe that remedying discrete injustices ought to be the first priority of the anti-racism movement and that conversations about race can offer some salutary benefits. Others disagree. Here I want to present Davis's views, which are worth grappling with as judgment calls are made in less extreme circumstances.