By Sean Yoes
AFRO Baltimore Editor
Maryland musician Daryl Davis is a fascinating fellow.
The veteran sideman indulges in multiple genres from Rock to Blues, to Jazz. “I’ll play whatever you want me to play,” Davis said recently. “You paying, I’m playing.” But, Davis, who is Black, has an interesting side hustle beyond the music.
He frequently breaks bread and bends elbows with some of the most vile White racists in the country and has been doing so since 1983.
During a recent appearance on “The Joe Rogan Experience,” Daryl Davis, a musician based in Maryland revealed how since 1983, he has met and befriended about 200 members of the Ku Klux Klan and contributed to them leaving the hate group. One of those men, Robert White, was also a member of the Baltimore Police Department. In this still from the Davis interview, he displayed the Klan and BPD uniforms White gave to him. (Photo Credit: YouTube)
I first learned of Davis and his astonishing story several years ago, but I got a more in-depth look into this man and his motivations during a more than two and a half hour conversation (over 2.2 million views on YouTube since it originally aired on Jan. 30, as of Feb. 4) with the seemingly irrepressible Joe Rogan during Episode 1419 of “The Joe Rogan Experience.”
“I was playing in a bar one night in Frederick, Maryland, an all-White bar. And when I say all-White, I don’t mean that Blacks couldn’t go in. What I mean is Blacks chose not to go in, they weren’t welcome,” said Davis to Rogan, before revealing the details of his first meeting with a man who would become a seemingly improbable close friend to Davis.
“And here I was in this bar with this country band, a friend of mine’s band, I was the only Black guy in the band, only Black guy in the bar. And upon finishing the first set this uh, I’m walking to the band table and somebody walked up and put their arm around my shoulder. I turned around to see who it was and it was a White gentleman, maybe 15, 18 years older than me. And he says, `Yeah, I really enjoy you all’s music.’ And I say, thank you and shook his hand. And he pointed at the stage and said, ‘You know, I’ve seen this here band before, but I ain’t never seen you before. Where’d you come from?’ And I explained…this is my first time in this place I just joined the band. And he said, `Man I really like your piano playing and this is the first time I ever heard a Black man play like Jerry Lee Lewis,” Davis explained.
So, just about anybody who has a general knowledge of the history of Rock and Roll and its relationship to the Blues, understands Jerry Lee Lewis probably wouldn’t have been possible before Rock gods like Little Richard and Fats Domino crafted the blueprint for Lewis to follow. And Davis revealed that history to his new admirer, who happened to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Since 1983, Davis, allegedly the first Black man to write a first hand account of the inner workings of the KKK, has contributed to more than 200 men being “converted” and quitting the Klan. And according to Davis, one of those men was also a member of the Baltimore Police Department.
“Robert White used to be the Grand Dragon of Maryland, for another group,” explained Davis. “…He had been busted, arrested and put in jail for conspiring to bomb a synagogue in Baltimore up on Liberty Road. He was convicted, he went to prison for four years…and then he got out after doing his time, continued running the Klan and then some years later he got busted again. This guy was vehemently… anti-semetic and racist and very, very violent.”
Indeed, White was sentenced in Oct. 1989, in federal court to 36 months in prison after he admitted he owned an illegal arsenal and conspired to possess two live hand grenades. He had also been convicted of assaulting a Black man during a racial brawl in March 1989, according to the Washington Post.
The story of Robert White is not a new one. But, is there any doubt the rabidly racist remnant of White and his ilk is still a real thing within the BPD? Davis doesn’t think so; he said he believes there are still members of the KKK in the BPD.
“The Baltimore City Police Force is very racist and very corrupt,” he said. “What they would do is they would turn a blind eye to the Klansmen on the force…as long as the guys would not bring unwarranted attention to the department.”
For years, I’ve been asking the simple question of BPD publicly and privately, who are you hiring and specifically, where do they come from?
Baltimore’s Black residents especially, whose Constitutional and civil rights have been violated historically for decades deserve a cogent, transparent and truthful answer from the BPD regarding the department’s hiring practices.
Sean Yoe is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.