MU
Oak Leaves

February 17, 2017

Davis VIA

Daryl Davis speaks to a packed house in Cordier Auditorium. Davis presented for the annual Martin Luther King VIA

Davis Shows MU Students True Bravery


Virginia Rendler

How does a 10-year-old child, harassed and battered because of his race, go on to reeducate members of the Ku Klux Klan as an adult? Daryl Davis told his story at the 49th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Remembrance and Rededication Ceremony on Feb. 2 in Cordier Auditorium.

Davis was the only black member of his boy scout troop, and when people began throwing cans and bottles at him, he couldn’t understand why. “Why are they hitting us?” he thought. “They must not like the boy scouts. There must be a reason.” But as it turned out, they were just hitting him. He thought of every reason except his race. 

His life’s work is dedicated to understanding and fighting racism through civil communication and discussion with members of the Ku Klux Klan, such as Roger Kelly, who became the Imperial Wizard. 

A Chicago native, Davis was raised by parents worked for the U.S. embassy and the family traveled across the world while Davis was young. He has been to six continents, and he said that this contributed to his lack of understanding about racism at an early age. He said that America was the first place he experienced discrimination in schools, as international schools were full of diversity.

Davis has influenced many members through civil conversations, to leave the Klan, even giving him their robes and masks after they left. He has not destroyed those robes because he wants to preserve this shameful part of American history in order to continue education. “The Ku Klux Klan is as American as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet,” Davis said. He said that he was just a jazz major, but if he could change people’s minds just through peaceful conversation, anyone can, and society needs to: “Hate stems from fear of the unknown, but we have the tools to bring light to the unknown.”

Davis’s talk attracted professors, students and community members. Sydney Abbott, a first-year biochemistry major said that Davis struck her as incredibly brave. “A main takeaway that I had from this VIA was ignorance versus stupidity,” Abbott said. “Davis says that members of the KKK are ignorant and it is our responsibility to educate these people, but if I were in his place, I’m not sure I would have the tolerance to do that.” Abbott said she agreed with Davis that our ideology needs to catch up to our technology. 

First-year education major Chelsea Glenn also thought it was compelling how Davis demonstrated tolerance for people that showed him none. “I think what stood out the most was just his interaction with someone who’s supposed to hate him,” Glenn said. “I think he was a perfect speaker to have on campus to remember MLK. I went to Atlanta for my Jan term and I learned about Dr. King and about how he wanted to peacefully protest, and that’s kind of what Davis did, he peacefully interacted with the KKK.
 
“My favorite part was showing the CNN interview and that actually did happen, him showing the KKK robes and him playing the piano, because it showed everything he was telling.”

Many students seemed surprised by how compelling Davis’s message was. First-year English major Destinee Boutwell said she was skeptical about the talk, but was glad she ended up going, because Davis’s message was so powerful. “His relationship with the leader of the KKK was so ironic and unlikely that it spoke volumes about how alike we are even if we think we are different,” Boutwell said. “It just showed how ridiculous the social barriers we create are. We are raised with prejudice, some not as dramatic as the Klan, but we want to hold on them because they are comfortable and that's what we know.”

Students also said they left the VIA with a new perspective on how they interact with people with differing opinions. “My favorite part of the VIA was when he stood before us, surrounded by proof that even the deepest rooted prejudices and hate can be changed with a conversation,” Boutwell said. “He held the white hood of his friend, a former member of the KKK, and said that change happens when two people can sit down and just talk to each other, and more importantly, listen. We try to preach to each other and all that does is offend those we are talking to.”