The Friendship Between the KKK Imperial Wizard and the Black Blues Musician: Their joint Message to America
By Nate Thayer
June 19, 2015
The United States is an extraordinary, noble experiment striving for the utopia of meritocracy. It is a wondrous, simmering cauldron of ingredients dominated by enshrined precepts of hope, racial and religious tolerance, multi-cultural coexistence, and equal access to education and opportunity. All this is guided by rule of law free from political interference by those with money, guns, and political power.
This makes the United States very, very different from much of the rest of the 173 nations in the world. In theory, this is designed to ensure equal ability to make enough money to live free of want and laws which muted oppression through access to impartial justice free from political influence, bias, and corruption.
This is not pithy rhetoric. But I would not fault the good people of Charleston, South Carolina for thinking otherwise today.
As yesterdays horrific explosion of hateful violence at a South Carolina church showed, the U.S. ideology of multiculturalism and equal opportunity is very much a work in progress and it has yet to be determined whether the experiment will be successful.
Today I was given a glimmer of hope amidst the white noise of incessant shallow media rhetoric and the black mood fueled by polarized mutterings in the wake of the South Carolina orgy of unspeakable violence.
There are reasons for hope if the extreme political bookmarks of American ideology would start a conversation with one another. They share more in common than many would think.
In a both related but unconnected occurrence, my friend, the Imperial Wizard of the Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Frank Ancona, publicly reached out to another friend Daryl Davis, a black professional musician.
Ancona’s life mission is to promote racial purity and defend the concept of racial separatism.
Davis has quietly conducted a lifelong personal crusade to create a dialogue with those deemed the most hateful of intolerant political extremists in America.
“In a recent interview, Daryl Davis defended me when the Southern Poverty Law Center started bad mouthing the Traditionalist American Knights and myself. Daryl Davis, a black man, said ‘I know Frank and consider him a friend. You do not know anything about them or Frank Ancona’,” wrote the leader of the largest KKK group in America in a message to his nationwide membership.
“I feel the same way about Daryl even though there are many things we disagree on. If you took the oath that has been handed down, you know that you are to treat all men with the same respect you want to be treated with, regardless of race.”
I brought the message from the KKK leader to the attention of Daryl Davis, who is not, obviously, a member of the Klan. “One very important thing about Frank Ancona is he is very honest and respectful and we sit down and he will listen to my point of view and I will sit down and listen to him. We all have something to teach one another, and likewise, we all have something we can learn from one another.”
“After 148 years of nothing but violence and hatred, it’s time we get to know one another on a social basis, not under a cover of darkness,” added Davis.
“For showing true friendship toward the Traditionalist American Knights I presented Daryl Davis with a certificate of friendship,” wrote the KKK leader Ancona yesterday, hours before the mass carnage at the South Carolina church. “Anyone who has a problem with this can go ahead and delete me now or come and speak to me like a man to my face. I can truly say I have never been back stabbed by this black man like I have so many supposed Klansmen who have taken the oath and forsaken it.”
Daryl Davis has also experienced his fair share of backlash for his reaching out to spark dialogue with people who hate him for being black. “It also caused some backlash for me. Some Black people called me a ‘Uncle Tom’ and an ‘Oreo.’ I find it very hypocritical that those people who attack the Klan as a bunch of ignorant people who judge someone because of their skin color, without getting to know them, would judge me, without getting to know me. Ignorance does not discriminate, it comes in all colors,” Davis told me on June 18.
“One thing we do agree on is we are all Americans and need to fight to keep America as our Constitution intended it to be,” added Ancona.
“Frank and I posed for some pictures together and that created some backlash for Frank from rival Klan groups and some of his own members. He has publicly defended his decision to pose for pictures with me,” said Daryl Davis yesterday evening, hours after the church massacre in South Carolina. “You can’t say that you don’t hate Black people and that friendships are possible, but then run the other way when such an opportunity presents itself.”
These were gestures of acceptance and tolerance from two very unlikely friends. Men I know to be sincere from my own friendship with them both.
Frank Ancona and Daryl Davis are courageous people. And as they have much to learn from each other, the rest of us have much to learn from them.
America has a very real, insidious and pervasive racial divide–a polarization which is the elephant in the nationwide room.
Nobody wants to acknowledge the emperor with no clothes, ashamed to admit that we have little idea how the “others” lives are lived and what their experiences are.
Because we don’t talk and we don’t interact, therefore we don’t know and we don’t understand. And that is true for both our shared, common travails as it is for the starkly different experiences we have coming from different races, classes, ethnicity, religions, and all the other variables that make us unique and comprise the extraordinary mosaic of this country.
But America, for all its merits, is, at the same time, accompanied by a disturbing, metastisizing surge of intolerance, which too often explodes into a free-fire zone of carnage of the undeserving.
But, for all its faults, people from every corner of the globe flock here because, where they live is often even more fucked up than it is in the United States.
The truth is the world is divided up by political borders almost exclusively designed to ensure racial or religious or ethnic purity. A vast majority of wars in modern history have been fought based on racial, religious, or ethnic strife.
Those countries that are tiptoeing into the very cold and murky waters of heterogeneous co-existence of religion, race, and ethnic multiculturalism all face various levels of tumult and backlash.
As, certainly, does the United States today, as we are all hyper aware on the day after the massacre in South Carolina.
Frank Ancona is the leader–the Imperial Wizard–of the largest Ku Klux Klan organization in America. They are widely recognized as a racist hate group.
Daryl Davis is a black man and an accomplished professional musician. The two have established a sincere friendship while bravely fending off detractors who would prefer they were enemies that should be meaningful to all of us.
“He is willing to open himself up to criticism and insults. But, he is smart enough to also realize that he is gaining a lot more respect from more people by walking the walk. That’s what a true leader does,” said Davis of Ancona.
“Everybody is afraid to say what they really think anymore, because they are afraid of being attacked. But that doesn’t change what people are thinking,” said Ancona. “A lot of people have a lot of grievances. I think a lot of the poor white kids feel like a lot of the poor black kids think, but they can’t say what they think. They get accused of being racist. There are a lot of poor white kids hooked on drugs, they have no jobs, no opportunities. They are angry. The same as black kids.”
After the South Carolina carnage, Ancona wrote me that “My thoughts and prayers are with those whose lives were tragically taken by this lunatic and I pray that God will bring peace to those families, the community, and our Nation,” said the Imperial Wizard of the KKK of the families of the murdered black congregants. “It literally made me sick to my stomach. Those poor families….”
“Our country is in bad shape and we need to pull together. The best way for our enemies to defeat us, is to divide and conquer. Why are we making their job easier by us destroying one another?” asked Daryl Davis.
“What this sick individual did was a heinous act that did nothing to promote any viewpoint that he was trying to advance. If he thought he was promoting or advancing any cause for white people he was sadly mistaken,” said the Imperial Wizard. “What he did guarantee is that his extremist ideas will be pushed even further to the fringe and will guarantee that those with his kind of ideals and agenda will not get their radical views heard nor espoused by anyone.”
These are the shared voices of who many would mistakenly assume are enemies.
“I first had contact on the phone with Frank Ancona. Within moments, we were talking like old friends. There are some points upon which we disagree,” said Davis who has spent 20 years seeking out “Klan leaders and members around the country” trying to spark a dialogue with a group that many consider the most intractable hate group in the U.S.
“I have come across many who “talk the talk” and will get in the media and preach that they are the new Klan and they don’t hate anybody, that they just love their own race,” Davis said. “Then they will go behind closed doors and rant and rave about how they hate niggers. I have more respect for the ones that I’ve met who have told me to my face they don’t like me or they hate me for no other reason than the color of my skin.”
A few weeks ago, I received a hateful screed by the then South Carolina leader–or Grand Dragon–of the Ku Klux Klan, Michael Clark. “Frank Ancona; is a cocksucker and Nate Thayer’s friend in the Ku Klux Klan !!!!!” Clark wrote apropos to nothing one day in March on my Facebook page.
“Actually, Michael Clark, I do consider Frank Ancona, a friend. This has nothing to with my reporting on the KKK,” I wrote Clark back. “I am a bit confused why you are in a tizzy, given you were, last I talked to you, the Grand Dragon of the Traditional American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan for the states of South Carolina and North Carolina. Please update me if there has been a change in that status.”
It turned out that the reason was the black man, Daryl Davis.
“It’s not about reporting about the KKK. You are their ally and brought in to represent their side of the story,” Michael Clark replied. “Frank Ancona has been proven to be a Traitor to the Invisible Empire with his love for Darryl Davis and seems to change his story every time the wind changes. Your allegiance to Frank Ancona makes me wonder just where do you stand ??? !!!!!!!!”
“Actually, Michael Clark, I don’t have ‘allies’ nor do I have ‘allegiances’. I am a journalist. Where I stand is with the facts. Nothing more and nothing less. That might be useful for you to understand,” I responded. “Not everything or everybody is part of some dark, secret conspiracy or has a political agenda. I don’t, in my professional life. I do support everybody, including yourself and Frank Ancona, to say or think or believe anything you or he believes, regardless of how wacky I might personally think those views might be.”
“I’m glad to hear your integrity has not been compromised, Nate. Just be careful and be aware that Frank Ancona is the two-headed snake that cannot be trusted,” Michael Clark, the South Carolina KKK Grand Dragon, wrote me.
A few days later I inquired of the Imperial Wizard Ancona as to what was the catalyst for the rift with his South Carolina Grand Dragon. “Your former South Carolina Grand Dragon appears to not like you anymore,” I wrote to Ancona on March 29. “He wrote me this today: ‘Frank Ancona; is a cocksucker and Nate Thayer’s friend in the Ku Klux Klan !!!!!'”
“Yes, he was one of my high-ranking officers. He has been a member for the last 5 years, but because of that deal with Daryl Davis I’m a Jew and a n***** lover,” Ancona replied. “He says I committed treason by my meeting with Daryl Davis. We have since banished him from the Klan.”
“I don’t know how you keep track of who are your friends and former friends and enemies and former enemies etc,” I replied. “You guys need a company human resources manager to keep an eye on the boneheads who seem to flock to you people like bugs to a light bulb. How many people have you banished from your KKK?”
“Oh, a lot. I have kicked out at least 125 members,” Ancona said. “Yes, he was banished from the Klan. He had a disagreement with me. He says I committed treason by my meeting with Daryl Davis. Before, I was the greatest Imperial Wizard since (historical KKK leader) Simmons, and now I’m a Jew and a Nigger lover and a traitor lol. The way I look at it he’s doing me a favor keeping the people who are about nothing but hate out of my group.”
“Frank Ancona cares for nothing but himself and has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt he cannot be trusted and it is he who should be shunned as a poisonous snake along with his organization which professes to do one thing and instead does another,” Michael Clark wrote me.
“We may have our differences but I’ve got Frank’s back and I know he’s got mine. We know how to get along. The rest of us need to learn to live together as brothers, regardless of our beliefs, or perish together as fools. It all starts by following Frank Ancona’s example of having a dialogue with someone outside of your immediate comfort zone,” Daryl Davis told me.
Actually, it is Daryl Davis who initiated the example of insisting on jump starting a dialogue with the poster boys of what most would view his natural, intractable enemies.
Who is Daryl Davis?
Daryl Davis is one of those people who one intrinsically trusts as sincere when one encounters him. Because he is. In the early 1980’s he had a life altering encounter which launched his personal but muted Jihad by contacting and meeting and talking and listening to one Klansman at a time, to try to understand the roots of racism and break down false walls of misunderstanding.
Davis received a degree in Jazz music from Howard University in 1980, and launched into a successful music career. “Up until about 11th grade, I wanted to be a spy. I was fascinated with James Bond. To this day, I still have my James Bond briefcase that fires plastic bullets and my 007 decoder belt from my childhood!” he says now.
In 1983, Davis found himself in an all white honky-tonk playing country music. He was the only black person in the joint. During a break, a man approached him and “told me this was the first time he heard a black man play as well as Jerry Lee Lewis.” Davis responded: “Jerry Lee learned to play from black blues and boogie woogie piano players and he’s a friend of mine. He told me himself where he learned to play.”
“He was fascinated,” says Davis, “but he didn’t believe me. Then, he told me he was a Klansman.”
“At first, I thought ‘why the hell am I sitting with him?’ but we struck up a friendship and it was music that brought us together,” he says. “He was fascinated with me and wanted me to join him at his table and buy me a drink. I don’t drink but agreed to have a soft drink with him. He told me this was the first time he had ever sat down and had a drink with a Black man,” said Davis. “That is when he told me he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Now it was my turn not to believe him and I started laughing, until he pulled out his KKK membership card and handed it to me. I would continue to see him every time I would play at this bar and he would bring his fellow Klan members to see the ‘Black guy who plays like Jerry Lee Lewis’, although I don’t know if he used the term “Black” or not. Over time, we became friends and I would meet other Klansmen and Klanswomen.”
It was then that Davis set out to get an answer to his question: “Why do you hate me when you don’t even know me?”
Since that first encounter, Davis has made it a life mission to seek out and develop friendships in order to spark conversation and promote understanding with dozens of Klansman across the country.
This happened simultaneously with Davis pursuing a career as a blues musician–the essential expression of the black underclass experience–which has catapulted him into the elite of the black artistic world, where he has played and schmoozed with the likes of Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Muddy Waters Legendary Blues Band, Sam Lay, Sam Moore, Percy Sledge, The Coasters, The Drifters, and The Platters, among others.
“I was raised overseas in integrated schools,” said Davis, whose father was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer and posted abroad. “I didn’t know people whose premise was to be racist and exclude other people. It seemed unfathomable to me. I was an American embassy brat, going to international schools overseas and my life was multicultural, but that term did not exist then. For me it was just the norm. Every time I would come back, I would see people separated by race. I had always gotten along with everyone.”
Davis also became close with Robert White, a Grand Dragon in the Maryland KKK. “I respect someone’s right to air their views whether they are wrong or right,” Davis says. “Robert White was a Grand Dragon who had gone to prison numerous times. At first, he was very violent and very hateful but we talked for a long time. Over time, he began thinking about a lot of things he had done and said that were wrong. He quit, and in the end, he gave me his robe and hood, and his police uniform.”
Davis even served as a pallbearer at the funeral of Klansman Roy Frankhouser, who was the Grand Dragon of Pennsylvania. Frankhouser also was a member of the American Nazi Party, a government informant, a security consultant to Lyndon Larouche and had been arrested at least 142 times.
During this time, Davis also played with and befriended legendary blues musicians Pinetop Perkins and Johnnie Johnson, two of the greatest Blues pianists. “Each one of them claimed me as their godson and I was a pallbearer at both of their funerals, too” said Davis.
Davis says that the best way to solve the problem of racism is for people who disagree to sit down and talk: “You have to address what’s in the person head and in their heart.”
“Invite your enemy to talk. Give them a platform to talk because then they will reciprocate. Invite your enemies to sit down and join you. You never know; some small thing you say might give them food for thought, and you will learn from them. Establish dialogue. It’s when the talking stops that the ground becomes fertile for fighting.”
As to how Davis’s life mission to do his part and reconcile how fractured racial relations intersects with the professional music career, he says “What the Blues has to offer is the truth. It is real people singing about real things and situations in life, whether they are sad or happy, they are real. These things transcend all races. Everyone can have the Blues. Everyone can sing a Blues song. But, you must have experienced the Blues.”
“As I said before, the Blues speaks to everyone, rich, poor, Black, White, religious, atheist, straight, gay, whatever. It is music for the common man/woman and what everyone has in common is that at one time or another, they all had the Blues. ”
Davis has authored a book, “Klan-Destine Relationships”, on his experience with the Klan.
To research the book, “I acquired and supplied my White secretary with the phone numbers and had her make the initial calls to the prospective interviewees. Some of these people would not have spoken with me. I did not want them to be able to tell the color of my skin and refuse my request for an interview. I would let them decide, once they saw me, if they wanted to follow through with the interview. Some invited me over to their homes, not knowing I was Black. Others met with me at predetermined locations. All were completely shocked, but most complied with my interview while a few refused.”
Once Davis met Klansmen in person “Predictability ended and individualism entered. No one can say that each Klan member is cut from a standard cookie cutter. They all come from various walks of life, educational backgrounds, levels of intellect, socio-economic status and religious denominations. We often found ourselves having more in common with each other than we had in contrast. The spontaneity of our encounters has led to many long-lasting friendships.”
In his youth, Davis was struck by the impact that music had disintegrating the barriers of racial divide. “When any of these Rock’n’Roll or Rockabilly artists performed, Black kids and White kids would bounce out of their seats in their racially segregated seating sections, knock down the ropes and start dancing and boogying in the aisles together. This had never happened before.
Naturally, the powers that be of the White Establishment blamed it on the sexual and Satanic rhythms of Black music. City officials all over the country began cracking down on, banning “Rock’n’Roll shows from taking place in their towns because of the “race mixing” that would ensue resulting from this “Black music.”
“When Black and White kids would start dancing together at these shows that managed to take place, the police would arrive and end the concert. It was called everything from race music, jungle music to nigger bop,” says Davis.
“White artists like Elvis Presley were considered a disgrace to the White race for advocating, promoting and performing this music. On top of that, he was wiggling around and gyrating his lower body ‘like a nigger.’ How could, and why would, a White man ‘lower himself to the level with a nigger?’ Some of the Establishment even went so far as to call this advent in Black music, a Communist plot to disrupt America and corrupt White youth,” he told a music blog interviewer recently.
The wondrous age of digital communication has, in many ways, not lived up to its promise to connect the world to each other. Arguably, it has relegated us into billions of separate digital cubicles void of actual human interaction and contact. The human voice is no longer the dominant mode of communication of our species. The eyes are no longer an integral part of viewing the world around us. Human touch is no longer the dominate way to express affection or appreciation. We don’t talk or see or interact with those around us.
“It bothers me a great deal, as an American, that we call ourselves the greatest country on Earth. Certainly by technological standards, we’ve surpassed all over countries around the globe. We have the ability to put a man on the moon. While Neil Armstrong was up there walking around, we could talk to him live, all the way from Earth to the moon via satellite radio phone. How is it that we Americans can communicate all over the world, cyberspace and the universe, but can’t talk to the person who lives right next door to our home because he or she is of a different race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality? It seems to me that before we can consider ourselves to be the greatest nation on the face of this Earth, our ideology needs to catch up with our technology.”
Far too often, the digital age has relegated us to communicate with others who already think the same way, look the same, share the same preconceptions, exchange the same political views, and have experienced similar lives. We are not challenged to think or experience, understand, or sympathize with the differences in all of us, as individuals and groups.
This allows us all to create, in important, essential ways, false personas edited to make us appear unblemished–void of the beautiful flaws and nooks and crannies and differences that make us human, where we are made to think and forgive and understand others. And where that exchange is reciprocal.
Daryl Davis and Frank Ancona are American heroes, in my view.
“There are those who believe that you may be equal to them but you need to stay with your own and they need to stay with their own. But what they think about me, does not determine or influence what I think about myself. When I keep that in mind, I am able to maintain a friendship with those who think less of me,” says Davis. “I have complete knowledge of myself, confidence, respect and dignity. None of my ‘friends’ started out liking me. They hated me!!! But, by maintaining the aforementioned characteristics, some eventually changed their minds and that was the beginning of some wonderful friendships.”
“I don’t hate black people. I don’t hate anybody,” says the affable Ancona. “I have no problem with any man or woman who is a law-abiding American. I believe that we all should respect our own race. I am a Christian. I do not believe in interracial marriage. In America, you can believe anything you want. But no matter what we say, most people don’t listen. The Klan is not very different from many political groups. If you are a criminal or espouse violence, you can not be a member of this Klan. I can’t tell you how much time I spend explaining to people we do not hate anybody.”
The two men should be admired not just for their courage, but for the even more laudable act of allowing the “enemy”, so to speak, to maintain his dignity at all times.
While mainstream America elects to caricature and point its finger at the Ku Klux Klan and other similar groups for their overt racism, Mr. Davis has opted for a much more noble track–treating Klansmen as fellow human beings instead of dismissing them as mere stereotypes, and, by doing so, shedding light on their concerns, their values, their hopes, and their motives.
Rather than attacking the overt racist, Davis instead opts for the much more noble and delicate task of attacking the racism latent within all of us. A Klansman can be sent to jail for being a Klansman, just like Blacks are sent to jail for the color of their skin. And a Black man can treat a Klansman as a human being, just like a Klansman can treat a black man as a human being.
“A lot of people have anti-racist groups. They get together and meet and sit around and talk about how bad discrimination is. Then someone says ‘there’s a Klan group across town. Why don’t we invite them to come and talk to us?’ and the other person says ‘Oh no! We don’t want that guy here!’ Well, you’re doing the exact same thing they are. What’s the purpose of meeting with each other when we already agree? Find someone who disagrees and invite them to your table,” says Davis.
“When I got married, I invited some Klan members to my wedding. Those who were able, did come, though not in their robes & hoods. Ugh, can you even imagine if they did show up in their robes? Only the bride gets to wear a white dress!” he says. “I married a white woman.”
A true and lasting solution to the race problem in the United States is neither political nor legislative, but within the free hearts of all Americans.
While Daryl Davis is being an amicably aggressive busybody and insinuating himself upon people who are his enemy, he has managed to start taboo conversation and spark forbidden dialogue, finding common ground and forcing the issue of racial polarization into a debate using critical thinking.
When people are talking to each other, experiencing one another, they are not shooting each other.
In trying to find meaning and hope in the unspeakable tragedy of the mass shootings of good people in South Carolina, there may be a few pages to take from the lesson and example of the Ku Klux Klan leader from Missouri and his friend, the black musician from Maryland.
“Here is the problem: everybody has all this anger, but we don’t continue the dialogue. Prior to 9/11, this country was divided, and one thing good came of it–it brought Americans together. But there was no mechanism in place to continue and build upon the conversation that resulted from the tragedy that brought us together in the first place. Without that resource, we eventually become divided once again. So we divided once again. Now is the time to put a mechanism in place. Have the conversation we need. That could have been anybody’s church, and if we don’t start talking and listening and understanding one another, we will be back at someone else’s church again,” said Davis.
“When people call the hotline they are immediately transferred to voicemail after hearing the introduction message. If they leave a message talking about violence or hate, those messages are discarded and they are not given any further consideration,” Ancona told me today.
If these two people have figured out how to emerge from the darkness of fear and intolerance and hate and establish a true friendship based on mutual respect, the rest of us have hope.
“Of course I have faced racial prejudice. Just being a black man in this country, you have had to have had racial experiences. But If you choose to ignore cancer, it will metastasize,” said Davis.
That is a lesson for everyone, and the visionary message of KKK Imperial Wizard Frank Ancona and his friend Daryl Davis.