An African American Confronts the Klan in Accidental Courtesy

Daryl Davis has a startling method for converting racists: he befriends them.
An African American Confronts the Klan in Accidental Courtesy
Image: Courtesy of Sound & Vision

When someone Daryl Davis has befriended leaves the Ku Klux Klan, he often gives Davis the robe he wore as a member of that group. Over the years, Davis, by his own account, has amassed dozens of these retired jerseys of hate. Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America, which premiered this week at SXSW, chronicles Davis’s attempts to impact America by changing the hearts and minds of one racist at a time.

Davis goes to Klan rallies. He has invited Klansmen to his home and visited them. He calls some of them “friend” even as they call him inferior. In one moving segment, the film recounts how Davis met the daughters of an incarcerated Klan member at the airport and drove them to the prison so that they could visit their father. Eventually the family noticed that none of the man’s Klan colleagues were serving or loving them as much as Davis was. Their ideology of hate collapsed in the face of undeserved compassion.

“When something bothers me, I try to learn about it,” Davis told me in an exclusive interview at the Austin-based film festival after Accidental Courtesy premiered. Part of what makes him so effective at talking to the Klan is that he has read every book he can find on the subject. He asks questions. He gathers information. He listens. Often, it is readily apparent that he knows more about the Klan, its history, and its practices, than does the person with whom he is dialoging. “I never set out to convert anyone,” he says in the film. Through a mix of diplomacy and Socratic questioning, he will sometimes see a racist begin to think about his ideology rather than simply proclaim it. Eventually, “they end up converting themselves.”

In our interview, ...

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