Meet Daryl Davis, the Black Blues Musician Who Befriended 200 Klan Members & Made Them See the Errors of Their Ways

Musician Daryl Davis is a great, lumbering bear of a man with a very, very long fuse.

His disposition and his race are equally critical components of his decades-long project—engaging, as a black man, with members of the KKK, the National Socialist Movement, and other groups espousing white supremacy.

Diplomacy seems to be the major lesson of his globetrotting childhood. His father was a State Department official, and wherever the family relocated, Davis went to school with the children of other foreign service workers, whatever their race. This happy, multicultural experience left him unprepared for his return to his country of origin, when he was one of just two black pupils at his Belmont, Massachusetts elementary school, and the only black Cub Scout in his troop.

When Belmont’s Cub Scouts were invited to participate in a 1968 march to commemorate Paul Revere’s ride, his troop leaders tapped the 10-year-old Davis to carry the flag, provoking a furious reaction from many white spectators along the route.

His prior experience was such that he assumed their bile was directed toward scouting, even after his parents sat him down to tell him the truth.

Now, as the subject of Matt Ornstein’s documentary, Accidental Courtesy (watch it on Netflix here), Davis muses that the unusual circumstances of his early childhood equipped him to instigate and maintain an open dialogue with the enemy. He listens carefully to their opinions in the expectation that they will return the courtesy. It’s a long game approach that Davis refuses to play over social media or email. Only face-to-face.

Over time, his even-keeled manner has caused 200 card-carrying racists, according to NPR, to renounce their former path, presenting their cast-off hoods and robes to their new friend, Davis, as a rite of passage.

One of the most fascinating parts of the documentary is the tour of his klan memorabilia—patches, jewelry, pocket knives and belt buckles. He is able to explain the colors, insignia and provenance of the robes as methodically as he discusses musical history.

Presumably, some of this knowledge was handed down from the former owners—one of whom volunteers that Davis is far more knowledgable than he ever was about the ins and outs of klan hierarchies.

Davis doesn’t wait for an outspoken racist to renounce his beliefs before claiming him as a friend.

It’s fairly easy to feel clemency toward those Davis has nudged toward a whole new set of values, such as soft-spoken former-Grand-Dragon-turned-anti-racist activist, Scott Shepherd, or Tina Puig, a mother of two who was taken aback by Davis’ offer of a ride to the far away federal penitentiary where her white supremacist husband was serving a ten-year sentence.

It’s queasier to watch Davis posing with a smile in front of Confederate flags at a klan rally, or staunchly refraining from comment as jacked up supremacists spew vile, provocative remarks in his presence.

Not everyone has—or wants to have—the stomach for this sort of work. The most heated encounter in the film is the one between Davis and Baltimore-based Black Lives Matter activists Kwame Rose, Tariq Touré, and JC Faulk.

As director Ornstein told PBS’ Independent Lens:

Daryl operates under the principle that if you aren’t hearing viewpoints that are distasteful to you, that they are also not hearing yours. I think there’s wisdom in that. We saw this last election cycle how not doing that ended in not only disaster for this country, but a lot of infighting and yelling into echo chambers and news that serves to reinforce what you already believe. The economic arguments that Tariq and Kwame present in the film have a tremendous amount of validity, but in no way does this diminish the importance of what someone like Daryl does. If we all took the time to speak to even one or two people we disagree with and both really hear them and be heard that alone would begin to make a difference.

You can watch Accidental Courtesy on Netflix here. (If you don't have a subscription, you could always sign up for a 30-day free trial.) We have also added an NPR profile of Davis above.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her current project is Theater of the Apes' Sub-Adult Division's production of Animal Farm, opening this week in New York City.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

20,000 Americans Hold a Pro-Nazi Rally in Madison Square Garden in 1939: Chilling Video Re-Captures a Lost Chapter in US History

Our country’s bipartisan system ensures that every election will give rise to a winning side and a losing side—and depressingly, a sizable group who refrained from casting a vote either way.

There are times when the divide between the factions does not seem insurmountable, when leaders in the highest positions of authority seem sincerely committed to reaching across the divide….

And then there are other times.

Earlier in the year, the Women’s March on Washington and its hundreds of sister marches gave many of us reason to hope. The numbers alone were inspiring.

But history shows how great numbers can go the other way too.

With many American high school history curriculums whizzing through World War II in a week, if that, it’s doubly important to slow down long enough to watch the 7 minute documentary above.

What you’re looking at is the 1939 "Pro-American Rally" (aka Pro-Nazi Rally) sponsored by the German American Bund at Madison Square Garden on George Washington’s 207th Birthday. Banners emblazoned with such slogans as “Stop Jewish Domination of Christian Americans,” “Wake Up America. Smash Jewish Communism,” and “1,000,000 Bund Members by 1940" decorated the great hall.

New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia—an Episcopalian with a Jewish mother—considered canceling the event, but ultimately he, along with the American Jewish Committee and the American Civil Liberties Committee decreed that the Bund was exercising its right to free speech and free assembly.

A crowd of 20,000 filled the famous sports venue in mid-town Manhattan to capacity. 1,500 police officers were present to render the Garden “a fortress impregnable to anti-Nazis.” An estimated 100,000 counter-demonstrators were gathering outside.

Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine bragged to the press that “we have enough police here to stop a revolution.”

The most disturbing moment in the short film comes at the 3:50 mark, when another security force—the Bund’s Ordnungsdienst or "Order Service” pile on Isidore Greenbaum, a 26-year-old Jewish worker who rushed the podium where bundesführer Fritz Julius Kuhn was fanning the flames of hatred. Valentine’s men eventually pulled them off, just barely managing to save the “anti-Nazi” from the vicious beating he was undergoing.

Reportedly he was beaten again, as the crowd inside the Garden howled for his blood.

The uniformed youth performing a spontaneous hornpipe in the row behind the Bund’s drum and bugle corps is a chilling sight to see.

Director Marshall Curry was spurred to bring the historic footage to Field of Vision, a filmmaker-driven documentary unit that commissions short films as a rapid response to developing stories around the globe. In this case, the developing story was the “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, which had occurred a mere two days before.

“The footage is so powerful,” Curry told an interviewer, “it seems amazing that it isn’t a stock part of every high school history class. But I think the rally has slipped out of our collective memory in part because it’s scary and embarrassing. It tells a story about our country that we’d prefer to forget. We’d like to think that when Nazism rose up, all Americans were instantly appalled. But while the vast majority of Americans were appalled by the Nazis, there was also a significant group of Americans who were sympathetic to their white supremacist, anti-Semitic message. When you see 20,000 Americans gathering in Madison Square Garden you can be sure that many times that were passively supportive.”

Field of Vision co-founder Laura Poitras recalled how after meeting with Curry, “my first thought was, 'we need to put this film in cinemas,' and release it like a newsreel.”'  The Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain screened it before features on September 26 of this year.

The Atlantic has photos of the "Pro-American Rally" and other German American Bund-sponsored events in the days leading up to WWII here. Also read an account that appeared in a 1939 edition of The New York Times here.

The International Socialist Review covers the counter-demonstrations in many eyewitness quotes.

via PaleoFuture

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hamilton Mania Inspires the Library of Congress to Put 12,000 Alexander Hamilton Documents Online

Remember when bloody, bloody Andrew Jackson seemed like a shoe in for Best Sepulchral Historical Figure Brought Back to Life by an American Musical?

Alas for the 7th President, a little juggernaut called Hamilton came along, and just like that, it was the first Treasury Secretary and author of the Federalist Papers who had a fan base on the order of Beatlemania.

Teachers, historians, and librarians thrilled to reports of kids singing along with the Hamilton soundtrack. Playwright and original star Lin-Manuel Miranda’s clever rap lyrics ensured that young Hamilfans (and their parents, who reportedly were never allowed to listen to anything else in the car) would become well versed in their favorite founding father’s personal and professional history.

Out of town visitors who spend upwards of a month’s grocery budget for Broadway tickets voluntarily side trip way uptown to tour Hamilton Grange. The insatiable selfie imperative drives them to Central Park and Museum of the City of New York in search of larger than life sculptures. They take the PATH train to Weehawken to pay their respects in the spot where Hamilton was felled by Aaron Burr

Hamilton merchandise, needless to say, is selling briskly. Books, t-shirts, jewelry, bobble heads commemorative mugs…

The Library of Congress is not out to cash in on this cultural moment in the monetary sense. But "given the increased interest in Hamilton," says Julie Miller, a curator of early American manuscripts, it's no accident that the Library has taken pains to digitize 12,000 Hamilton documents and make them available on the web. The collection includes speeches, a draft of the Reynolds Pamphlet, financial accounts, school exercises and correspondence, both personal and public, encompassing such marquee names as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington.

One need not be a musical theater fan to appreciate the emotion of the letter he wrote to his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler, on the eve of his fateful duel with Aaron Burr:

I need not tell you of the pangs I feel, from the idea of quitting you and exposing you to the anguish which I know you would feel. . . . Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me.

Explore the Library of Congress’ Hamilton collection here.

And enter the online lottery for $10 Hamilton tickets because, hey, somebody’s got to win.

via Theater Mania

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Gonzo Illustrator Ralph Steadman Draws the American Presidents, from Nixon to Trump

In a 2012 interview with National Public Radio, cartoonist Ralph Steadman, best known for his collaborations with Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, lamented the quality of the candidates in that year’s Presidential race:

The problem is there are no Nixons around at the moment. That’s what we need — we need a real good Nixon to give something for other people to get their teeth into, to really ... loathe him, to become themselves more effective as opposition leaders.

Alas, his prayers have been answered.

Steadman, who has brought his inky sensibilities to bear on such works as Animal Farm and Alice in Wonderland, has a new American president to add to the collection he discussed several years ago, in the video above.

Steadman’s pen was the sword that rendered Gerald Ford as a scarecrow, Ronald Reagan as a vampire, and George W. Bush as a monkey in a cage of his own making.

Barack Obama, one of the candidates in that comparatively bland 2012 election, is depicted as a tenacious, slender vine, straining ever upward.

Jimmy Carter, somewhat less benignly, is a puppy eagerly fetching a stick with which to pardon Nixon, the Welsh cartoonist’s dark muse, first encountered when he accompanied Thompson on the road trip that yielded Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72.

And now…

Donald Trump has given Steadman reason to come out fighting. With luck, he'll stay out as long as his services are required. The above portrait, titled “Porky Pie,” was sent, unsolicited, to Gerry Brakus, an editor of the New Statesman, who published it on December 17, 2015.

At the time, Steadman had no reason to believe the man he’d anthropomorphized as a human pig hybrid, squeezed into bloody flag-print underpants, would become the 45th president:

Trump is unthinkable. A thug and a molester. Who wants him?

The portrait's hideousness speaks volumes, but it’s also worth looking beyond the obvious-seeming inspiration for the title to a reference few Americans would get. "Pork pie"—or porky—is Cockney rhyming slang for “a lie.”

See a gallery of Steadman’s portraits of American presidents on his website.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

Artists Put a Hidden Message in Their Letter Resigning from President’s Committee on the Arts & the Humanities

It wasn't the most high profile mass resignation of last week. (The CEOs on Trump's business advisory councils got that distinction.) But it was arguably the most creative one. Last Friday, "all 16 of the prominent artists, authors, performers and architects on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities resigned," reports The New York Times. And while their resignation letter didn't mince words (read it online here), it did take the added step of encoding in its text a short message for POTUS. Circle the first letter of each paragraph and what do you get? RESIST, the mantra of 2017.

In other related news, the administration announced that Trump will skip the annual Kennedy Center Honors this year--just the fourth time that a president has missed this annual national celebration of the arts. This year's honorees include Gloria Estefan, LL COOL J, Norman Lear, Lionel Richie, and Carmen de Lavallade.

via Boing Boing/Artnet

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People Are Planting Flowers in Potholes Worldwide: See the Creative Protest Taking Place in Montreal, Ukraine & Beyond

In 2015, Paige Breithart, an artist and student living in Hamtramck, Michigan, had grown tired of the countless potholes marring Hamtramck's streets. So she took matters into her own hands, and drove around town, filling the potholes with flowers, replacing the decay with symbols of growth and beauty. The story went viral, and Breithart's aesthetic treatment has since caught on. Look around Twitter, and you'll find stories about flowers filling potholes around the United States, and indeed around the world.

In some cases, these guerilla projects aren't just decorative, a simple way to spruce up a neighborhood. There's an activist element to them. In Bath, England, one flower pot vigilante said:

In an area of America there were a load of potholes filled in with pot plants, although that’s not what we are doing here. We think it’s a good thing to do but it’s more than about making people smile. Potholes are a real problem and have the potential to be death traps for bikers and cyclists and with cars there is an issue with blow-outs to wheels. The whole point is to raise awareness of them.

And local governments are taking notice, though not always happily. Concerned that drivers might get surprised or distracted by flowers suddenly appearing in the middle of a road, politicians are discouraging this form of protest. But you can't argue with the results. Once protesters call attention to them, the potholes have a magical way of getting properly paved and filled. Quickly.

Below you can see a gallery of potholes around the world that have gotten the flower treatment--from Missoula, Montana, to Montreal, Bath, Bosnia and Ukraine. Maybe the artist from Chicago (see image at bottom) is the one who got it right?

Wetzel County, West Virginia


Missoula, Montana


Montreal, Canada


Corner Brook, Canada


Bath, England


Berwickshire, Scotland


Edinburgh, Scotland







via Twisted Sifter/My Modern Met

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Stephen Fry Identifies the Cognitive Biases That Make Trump Tick

Months after the election, much of the electorate is still trying to figure out what makes Trump/Trumpism tick. Everyone has a theory--frankly too many theories to rehearse right here. But we'll give you the take of Stephen Fry, a regular presence on our site.

In the animated clip above from Pindex, Fry attributes the Trump's political ascendance and style to three cognitive biases, or three deviations from rational judgment, which lead people to draw illogical conclusions about other people or situations. They are, as follows:

At minimum, Fry's primer offers a quick introduction to the world of cognitive biases and their social impact. At most, it makes some sense of America's unexpected detour into Trumpism. I suspect that Fry's speculations only scratch the surface of a much more complicated answer--an answer that historians can sort out in the decades to come. And Fry's solutions--the ways he suggests combatting these cognitive biases--will need some more expert analysis too.

For anyone interested, the video below highlights 12 cognitive biases we regularly encounter in our daily lives:

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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