Daryl Davis makes a new friend

Justin Ward
6 min readJun 29, 2018

A black blues musician who collects the hoods and robes of Klan members he has befriended, Daryl Davis has been the subject of daytime talk shows, a Netflix documentary and a seemingly endless series of features and think pieces.

His name is often invoked in arguments about the proper response to resurgent white supremacy in the Trump era, which generally breaks down into two positions: dialogue vs. confrontation.

Should we defeat them in the streets or in the marketplace of ideas? Should we hear them out or shout them down? Should we hug them or punch them?

Today, white nationalist Richard Spencer tweeted out an image of him and Davis together. If Davis were to convince him to abandon his racist views, it would be a huge win.

Yet, there are plenty of reasons to doubt his chances.

No more KKK in Maryland?

In a time of polarization, the fantasy that racism can defeated by chatting with Klansmen over a few beers is alluring. Not long ago, I was one of those gullible people citing Daryl Davis as proof that there is another way—killing them with kindness and so on—but the events in Charlottesville changed that.

One of the many episodes of violence at the Unite the Right rally was an incident in which a man named Richard Preston fired his gun at a black counter-protestor.

Preston, Imperial Wizard of the Maryland-based Confederate White Knights, is another one of Davis’ “friends.”

Davis appeared as a character witness at his preliminary hearing last December, where a judge charged Preston with the crime of discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school, a Class 4 felony, with 6 being the least severe.

Given the circumstances as well as Preston’s prior arrests for rape and assault, the charge seems a little light.

And it’s hard to imagine such leniency had absolutely nothing to do with the testimony of someone like Davis, a guy famous for supposedly putting Klansmen on the road to redemption.

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Justin Ward

Journalist and activist. Founder and co-chair of DivestSPD. Bylines at SPLC, The Baffler, GEN, USA Today. Follow on Twitter: @justwardoctrine, @DivestSPD