On the hour ride home from the interview, Davis observed that he and Kelly had more in common than they had in contrast.
“What we had in contrast centered around how each of us felt about race. He thought his race was superior to my race. I thought that my race was equal,” Davis said. “He felt the races needed to be apart. I felt they needed to be together. Other than that, we agreed on a lot of things.”
Davis did stay in contact with Kelly. The white racist visited Davis’ home, but Davis was never invited to Kelly’s home. A couple of years later, Kelly was promoted from state leader to national leader of his particular splinter group of the Klan.
After he obtained the rank of imperial wizard, then Kelly invited Davis to his home and to Klan rallies.
Though the two men disagreed on race relations, they treated each other with respect and listened to each other and did not challenge each other with violence or rudeness.
“The imperial wizard said he respected me,” Davis said. “If you have an adversary, someone with an opposing point of view, give them a platform. Allow them to air their point of view even if their point of view is so extreme it cuts you to the bone. I have heard some things that cut me to the bone.”
When people are polite and ask for clarification of a point, then there is a better likelihood of that person reciprocating and allowing the other to have a platform to express a viewpoint.
“Make sure you have your facts so when it’s your turn, you can do it in an intelligent and influential manner so that at the end of the day, you each have to think about what the other said,” Davis said.
Davis said during a 90-minute lecture Tuesday evening at Cleveland State Community College that he never set out to change anyone. The 54-year-old author, lecturer and musician said he simply wanted to understand why people pelted him with rocks and bottles when he was 10 years old.
He told of being the only African-American Boy Scout in a parade between Concord and Lexington, Mass., in 1968. Men and even children threw objects at him as the Scouts retraced the path of Paul Revere’s famous ride. The young flag-bearer first questioned why the crowd was throwing things at the Boy Scouts. Davis did not realize he was the only target until adult Scout leaders hovered over him until he was out of harm’s way.
That was the first time Davis experienced racism. Until then, he had attended international schools in countries all over the world where his parents were assigned as career diplomats. He grew up “an embassy brat” in a “multicultural” environment and he did not believe his parents when they told him he was the object of racist behavior.
The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on April 4, 1968, made him realize his parents did not lie. However, he still did not know the “why” of racism. Later that same year, his parents were reassigned oversees and he had no more difficulty.
“But when we came back to the United States, I had problems and it just didn’t make sense,” he said.
Davis began reading everything available on the Ku Klux Klan in an effort to gain insight into the phenomenon of racism in the United States. White authors wrote most of the books. Two black authors wrote of escaped lynchings. During his search for answers, Davis graduated from Howard University in 1980 with a music degree. In 1983, he joined a country and western band as a pianist.
He told of playing the Silver Dollar Lounge in Frederick, Md., not too far from his home, in which he was the only black person.
“When I say I was the only black, I don’t mean blacks could not go in there, but blacks did not go in there. It was by their own choice and usually, it was a very good choice,” he said.
During the break after the first set, a white man complimented the band on their music. He then complimented Davis on his piano playing.
‘This is the first time I’ve ever heard a black man play the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis,” the man told him.
Taken aback, Davis asked, “Where do you think Jerry Lee Lewis learned how to play?”
“What are you talking about?” the man replied.
“Jerry Lee Lewis learned how to play that style from black blues and boogie-woogie piano players,” Davis responded. “That’s where rock and roll and boogie-woogie came from.”
The polite argument over who invented rock and roll was the first encounter the then 25-year-old Davis had with the man who revealed he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
“He gave me his phone number and asked me to call him anytime the band played in the bar. He wanted to bring his buddies so they could see this black guy play the piano like Jerry Lee Lewis,” Davis said.
Their casual relationship continued until the end of 1983, when Davis returned to rock and roll and blues. Eight years later, Davis still did not know the answer to the question about why there is racism. He decided to write a book based on face-to-face conversations with members of the Klan.
“I still had not found the answer to my question from when I was 10 years old: Why? Why would you hate me? Why would you throw things at me when you don’t even know me or know nothing about me. Tell me why?” he said. “Who better to ask than somebody who would join an organization that promotes supremacy or separation?
The black musician remembered the man from eight years earlier. Since then, the man had moved and he no longer had a telephone. But, Davis discovered the man’s address and showed up unannounced at his apartment one evening. That man, he discovered, had resigned from the Klan.
Davis asked the man to introduce him to Roger Kelly, the grand dragon of the Maryland Ku Klux Klan. It was that request that led to Kelly’s and other’s resignation from the Ku Klux Klan.
Davis’ experiences are detailed in his book, “Klan-Destine Relationships.”