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Johnny Lee Clary
One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him.
Booker T. Washington
I learned how to hate early in life. When I was five years old, my father encouraged me to lean out our car window and shout racial slurs as blacks came out of the supermarket. Daddy grinned and patted me on the back. "That's my boy," he said.
My mother was an alcoholic who never gave me any attention. So I hung out with Dad, hunting and fishing. When I was older, I would sit up late at night listening to my Uncle Harold talk about shooting at black men who crossed his property. Daddy and Uncle Harold would howl with laughter.
My grandmother, though, read the Bible to me, took me to Sunday school, and told me that she was praying for me. One Sunday I came home singing a song I had learned: "Jesus loves the little children-all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world."
"Don't ever let me catch you singing words like that again!" Daddy thundered.
That was the endof Sunday school and learning about Jesus, so I began looking for someone else to worship, like Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, and Al Capone. Gangsters fascinated me, and since very few things seemed to please my daddy, studying them was one of the few things that got me his approval.
One night when I was eleven, I came home and found my Daddy standing in the middle of his room holding a gun to his head. I watched in horror as he pulled the trigger -right in front of me.
After the funeral, while I was still in shock, Mama sent me to California to live with my older sister and her ex-con boyfriend. My sister tolerated me only for the government check, and she let her boyfriend beat me and call me horrible names. Lonely and confused, I started drinking. I spent most of my time either hanging out in the streets until I passed out drunk or just lying on my sister's old sofa staring at the TV.
One day, I watched a talk-show host interview David Duke, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Fascinated by Duke, I asked around to find out how I could get in touch with the Klan, and before long a representative, Bob, came to visit. After we talked for a while, he said, "Son, what you need is a real family-the Klan. Come join us, and we'll look after you. I think you'll even be a leader someday."
That was all I needed to hear. I desperately needed some place to belong, and these people were the first "family" I had had who cared about me. Week after week, Bob took me to meetings and then brought me home. At the age of fourteen, I became a full-fledged member of the Klan and part of a family-David Duke's family.
Eventually, I became Duke's bodyguard. As a more intimate member of the family, I quickly saw what a hypocrite Duke was and that his klan wasn't a family at all. So I decided to join a rival klan headed by Bill Wilkinson, Duke's arch rival.
I moved up in the ranks in no time. I became a tireless recruiter for the Klan in Oklahoma, and it grew under my leadership. I was a fiery and effective speaker as I spread the gospel of hate. I started two programs: one to recruit members straight out of police departments and another called Youth Core to sign up high school students. Both programs flourished. As the membership grew, so did my power and prestige, and by the time I was twenty, I was the Grand Dragon of Oklahoma.
We knew the power of the media and took every chance we got to use it to boost our recruitment. When I appeared on the Morton Downey Jr. show, my opening statement was "White Power!"-accompanied by a kind of Heil-Hitler, raised-arm salute. I was kicked off the show before I got a chance to say another word, but I took it as victory for our side because any media exposure was a coup for us. Bad press was much better than no press at all.
That's why, when I was asked to speak on a Tulsa radio station in 1979, I jumped at the chance. Only shortly before the program did I learn that I was to debate Reverend Wade Watts, a local leader of the NAACP. But I wasn't worried. I looked forward to a chance to put a black man in his place-especially a leader of the NAACP!
I began by refusing to shake hands with Reverend Watts, a nicely dressed, older black preacher who was carrying a worn Bible and wearing a smile on his strong, kind face. In a dignified manner, he looked straight into my eyes, reached out and took my hand, and shook it anyway.
"Hello, Mr. Clary," he said. "I'm Reverend Watts. Before we go in, I just want you to know that I love you and Jesus loves you." I couldn't believe he dared say that to me. I pulled my hand away and headed toward the studio.
Our debate went back and forth. I fired off reasons the races should never have anything to do with each other; the reverend quoted Scripture and politely refuted everything I said. When he zeroed in on me with pointed questions about my beliefs, I could only mumble the generic slogans of the Klan. His calm, gentle attitude angered and flustered me. I couldn't come back at him with anything fresh or original. I became so uncomfortable that I finally snarled, "I'm not listening to any more of this" and stormed out.
I grabbed my belongings and was heading through the lobby when the reverend calmly walked up to me. I was about to push him out of my way when I saw that he was holding a baby in his arms.
"Mr. Clary, this is my daughter Tia," he said. "And I have one last question for you." He held out a little girl with shining dark eyes and skin. She was looking straight at me with one of the sweetest expressions I had ever seen. "You say you hate all black people, Mr. Clary. Just tell me-how can you hate this child?"
Stunned and speechless, I turned and almost ran toward the door. I heard the reverend call after me: "I'm going to love you and pray for you, Mr. Clary, whether you like it or not!"
I didn't like it. I hated it! Those words burned in my ears.
For ten years, I had two passionate goals. The first was to climb the Klan's national ranks to the position of Imperial Wizard, and the second was to make Reverend Wade Watts pay for what he had done. I was out to destroy his life. I would make him hate me-whatever it took.
The Oklahoma Klan waged a ferocious campaign against Reverend Watts. Klansmen barraged his family with threatening phone calls, broke his windows, and torched effigies on his lawn. We even set fire to his church. We harassed his thirteen children, and they had to be escorted to school by the highway patrol. Every once in a while I found myself thinking about that baby, little Tia. But my hate drove the thought away.
Still, nothing the Klan did stopped the reverend from working for justice and equality. We couldn't intimidate or scare him enough to shut him up. When he joined ranks with an Oklahoma senator to outlaw the telephone hot lines we used for recruiting, we called an emergency meeting. When the Klan gathered, I announced that I had decided to stop Watts once and for all-and I would do it myself! With Klan members crowded around me, I dialed his home.
"I want you to know we're coming to get you," I hissed when the reverend answered. "And this time we mean business!"
"Hello, Johnny Lee!" he said, as though hearing from a long-lost relative. "You don't have to come for me; I'll meet you. How about at a nice little restaurant I know out on Highway 270? I'm buying."
"This isn't a joke, old man. We're coming over, and when we're finished, you'll wish you'd never crossed us."
"That place has the best home cooking you ever tasted! Apple pie that'll make you long for more. Fluffy mashed potatoes. Iced tea in mason jars...."
I slammed down the phone. "He wants to take us out to dinner," I said in disbelief. "Talked about apple pie and iced tea."
"The old man's gone crazy," someone said. "Let's forget about him."
We didn't. One day we surrounded him in that café. He had a plate of chicken on the table in front of him. Everyone watched in silence as I strutted up to him and told him that we were going to do the same thing to him that he did to that chicken. You could have heard a pin drop. Calmly, Reverend Watts picked up the chicken-and kissed it. The entire café burst out laughing, and we left.
We left Reverend Watts alone after that. I turned my energies to solidifying my position in my "family," and in 1989 I was appointed Imperial Wizard. I had just gone through a divorce and lost custody of my baby daughter, and in desperation I focused on creating a new family. I wanted to unify all hate groups-from skinheads to neo-Nazis-under the umbrella of the Klan. Hoping they would unite under my leadership, I arranged a national meeting.
But on the day of the gathering, the Klan, skinheads, and neo-Nazis all started fighting, accusing one another of stealing their members and mailing lists. By the time I arrived, my unity meeting was in shambles. As I looked out over the stormy proceedings, I thought: These groups want to "purify" the world and have it all be like them, but they hate one another. Their hate extends to all colors, backgrounds, and ages, even to babies like Reverend Wade Watts's little daughter Tia. Do I really want to live in a world of people like that? Are these the people I want to be my family?
"How can you hate this child?" Reverend Watts had asked me. How far I had come from the days I had sung those words: "Jesus loves the little children-all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight...."
Suddenly I was repulsed by the poison that swirled around me. I felt sick to my stomach. Confused thoughts whirled through my head. On my way to the meeting, police had beaten me up and impounded my car to try to stop me from getting there. And here we were beating each other up too. I turned in disgust and walked out the door.
From that point on, I started embarrassing members by turning up drunk at meetings. Finally I told the other Klan officials that I was giving up my position and leaving the group forever. They willingly allowed me to leave.
Then my life really fell apart. As the weeks passed, filled by a sense of shame and worthlessness, I fell into a deep depression. By this time I had lost a marriage, a child, and all my friends. I had no job, no identity, and no purpose. There was nothing left for me but the numbness of alcohol. So one day, alone in my shabby, dark apartment, I raised a loaded gun to my head. Daddy, I'm following in your footsteps. There's no other way to go....
Just as I was about to pull the trigger, sunlight broke through the partially closed blinds and fell on a Bible that lay gathering dust on my bookshelf. It was an old Bible like the one Reverend Watts had carried that day at the radio station-an old Bible like the one I had seen my grandmother read so many times.
Maybe there is another way. I put down the gun and picked up the Bible. It fell open to Luke 15-the Parable of the Prodigal Son, who was joyfully welcomed home by the father he had woefully wronged. I read the story three times and then fell on my knees and wept. That was the night I met God-or that He met me.
I quietly joined a church, a multiracial congregation. I kept a low profile, studying the Scriptures and getting grounded in God's truths and promises. For two years I couldn't get enough of Jesus. The hate in me gave way to hope, joy, and even love-something I had never before experienced. As impossible as it seemed at first, I was becoming a new person, from the inside out. At last, in 1991, I picked up the phone and placed a call I knew I had to make.
Mrs. Watts answered. Without identifying myself, I asked if Reverend Watts was there. It had been ten years since our last conversation, but she must have known my voice, for when the Reverend got on the line, his first words were: "This is that Ku Klux Klansman!" Then he said warmly, "Hello, Johnny Lee."
"Reverend Watts, I want you to know that I resigned from the KKK two years ago. I gave my heart to Jesus, and I'm a member of an interracial church."
"Praise the Lord!" he shouted. "I've never stopped praying for you! Would you do me the honor of speaking at my church?"
How can he forgive me? How could he have cared about me all those years? I hesitantly accepted, almost intimidated by the love that I knew I would find in his church.
Looking out over Reverend Watts's congregation of mostly black faces, I told my story simply, not hiding my past or sugarcoating the depth and ugliness of my involvement in the Klan. I told them that racism is a learned response but that love can be learned as well. Then I told them how God had miraculously changed all the hate in my heart to love and how I had discovered that I couldn't be a Christian and hate my brother.
There was silence when I finished. A teenage girl got to her feet and ran down the aisle toward me, arms open. I moved in front of the altar to pray with her. As I passed the reverend, I realized that he was weeping. "Don't you know who that is, Johnny Lee?" he asked quietly. "That's Tia. That's my baby."
All I had ever wanted was a family, and there had been one for me all along-waiting for me with open arms in my own hometown.
* * *
Johnny Lee is founder of Johnny Lee Clary Ministries and Colorblind Operations, Inc., which offers healing from unforgivingness, hate, suicidal tendencies, and substance abuse. An ordained minister, he has appeared on television and radio programs all over the world. Since 1990, Johnny Lee has been a member of Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of the nation's largest multiracial, interdenominational churches. Visit his web site at www.johnnyleeclary.com.
Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
As a young child, I never thought about God at all. I did go to church, though. The local church had a bus, and on Sunday mornings the driver would come around our neighborhood to pick up kids who wanted to go to church. Riding the bus was exciting, and I really liked that bus driver. The moment my brother, Jimmy, and I heard the horn blowing, we ran out the door and hopped on the bus.
I didn't learn anything when I got to church, at least not that I remember. It was that bus driver who had the real impact on me. He gave us treats and extra rides around the block, and he always had a "dollar giveaway" for the child who sat in the "special" seat. I couldn't wait to guess which seat would get me the dollar.
When I was thirteen, my parents separated, and I was left without a dad. I was devastated, and during the two years that followed, my life completely fell apart. I felt like a failure. Taking care of two young sons was too much for my mother, who was deaf. She tried her best, but we sometimes went without food and didn't get new clothes, let alone birthday or Christmas presents.
Excerpted from The day I Met God by Jim & Karen Covell Victorya Michaels Rogers Copyright © 2001 by Jim Covell, Karen Covell, and Victorya Michaels Rogers
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted August 2, 2001
I finished reading the book this weekend. Each story takes only a few minutes to read, but I found the book so hard to put down that I just kept reading another story, then another one. The final story had me crying like a baby. God is so good. It's wonderful how God can use us to speak to and comfort others.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 26, 2001
This is a a wonderful books with so many diverse stories that there will be something to inspire everyone. My inspiration came from a story that could not have been further from my life, yet the epiphany rang true. This book would be a wonderful gift, especially for the holidays to uplift and inspire.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2001
THE DAY I MET GOD is filled with inspiring and amazing stories of people who had an encounter with God....even the most unlikely of individuals. There's a story for everyone in this book. It will reach anyone and soften the hardest heart! If you have a friend who is need of God's healing power or truth, this is the book for them. These stories will lead them to God! I particularly was moved by the story of the young man was robbing a man who agreed to give him his money, but told the burglar that he needed to give his heart to the Lord. There's is no doubt in mind that this victim must have prayed for the man who robbed him, because he was later led to the Lord. The criminal was really haunted by the man's words until he gave his life to the Lord. I won't spoil the surprise of how he turned his life around! A great evangelical tool, this is a book that Christians can give to their non-Christian friends without fear of offending them. This book''s gentle stories speak loudly of everyone's need for God and also it shows how we are all individuals and how God meets us not just where we are but in such a special way that it validates how well he knows his children.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 8, 2001
This collection of short, first-person accounts is like a bag of Lay's potato chips; once I started reading, I couldn't stop. I honestly read until 4am, then grabbed the book and continued reading first thing the next morning. From the movie sets of Hollywood to a POW camp in WWII, these stories amazed, moved, and encouraged me. I highly recommend for anyone seeking to hear from or know God personally!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 18, 2001
The Day I Met God is full of stories that will leave you shaking your head and saying, 'That's amazing!' Chapter after chapter tells a different story which is really the same. Someone is going one way, they meet God and now they're going the opposite direction. Some were abused, some neglected, some in deperate need, some faced unbelievable tragedy, some were wildly successful yet hopeless and lonely. All these people came into a relationship with the Living God - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - the God who came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ - and they were completely and forever changed for the good. More than fictional books could ever be, these stories are inspirational. They really happened. Some of the people you will know from sports or the entertainment world. Some will be unknown to anyone but their immediate circle of family and friends. But all are just as miraculous and just as amazing. I'd highly recommend reading The Day I Met God. For yourself or a friend, it will inspire at the least, and may bring about amazing change that will enrich lives forever. Brad Mix Edmonton, AB Canada crownvideo.comWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.