CONOVER â€” Johnny Lee Clary learned hate at a very early age.
After the suicide death of his father and abandonment of his mother and sister, Clary found himself living on the streets of California, far from his native Oklahoma.
â€œI ended up in east Los Angeles, where I had to fight to survive due to all the gang activity,â€ he said.
He found himself looking for a place to belong.
â€œI just wanted somebody to come along and have them say they care about me,â€ he said.
He was watching television one day when he saw David Duke, a nationally-known leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He wrote Duke a letter and was later visited by a man representing the KKK.
â€œThe man told me the KKK would be my family,â€ said Clary.
While a member of the Klan, Clary and some fellow members came across a black man eating chicken in a restaurant.
â€œWe surrounded his table and told him that this restaurant was for whites only, that we were going to do to him what he was doing to that chicken,â€ said Clary.
The man, the Rev. Wade Watts, then picked up the chicken and kissed it.
Clary said the restaurant erupted into laughter, including fellow members of the KKK. Watts was able to drive away after leaving, waving to Clary and his gang.
That incident, according to Clary, as well as that of several people praying for him, led to his eventual transformation.
He feels that there were a number of Christians â€œassignedâ€ to pray for him.
â€œMy grandmother was one of those people,â€ said Clary.
While a member of the KKK, Clary became a professional wrestler, mainly wrestling in Oklahoma.
â€œDanny Hodge gave me an original shot as a manager,â€ recalls Clary, â€œand eventually as Johnny Angel, Iâ€™d win and retire the Arkansas Heavyweight Title.â€
The Klan, however, remained Claryâ€™s focus for 16 years. He worked his way through the organization to become the Grand Wizard of the White Knights of the KKK.
â€œAs their national leader, I toured the national talk-show circuit, appearing on shows hosted by Morton Downey Jr., Oprah Winfrey and others,â€ he said.
Eventually, Clary said he was riddled with torment and guilt over his racist lifestyle.
A weapons violation arrest in Tennessee, along with infighting among white supremacist groups and infiltration by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, pushed Clary to the brink.
â€œI found out that my girlfriend at the time was an FBI informant, so now the people that said they were my family (the KKK) were now against me,â€ Clary said.
He was also unable to find work due to his association with the KKK.
â€œI couldnâ€™t even get work again as a professional wrestler,â€ said Clary. â€œOr theyâ€™d find out I was once associated with the KKK and fire me.â€
He thought one night about ending his own life, same as his father did, when he opened his Bible to the story of the prodigal son.
â€œI had been a Christian my whole life, or so I thought and when I read that story, itâ€™s like God spoke to me,â€ he said.
The day after Clary thought about committing suicide, he got a call from a man who needed a car salesman.
â€œI sold two cars my first week and knew God heard my prayers,â€ Clary said.
Now he travels the country preaching the message of racial reconciliation.
â€œIâ€™m trying to build bridges between denominations and to show thereâ€™s no room for division,â€ Clary said.
Sunday, he delivered his message to the congregation of Christ Alive Church at the Shuford YMCA in Conover, where Lincolnton resident Mark Ivey is pastor.
â€œThe goal for having Clary here is to be more of a multicultural church, where weâ€™re not just one race,â€ said Ivey. â€œHere, you have all races coming together and connecting with each other on a personal basis.â€
On the net:
To learn more about Johnny Lee Clary, go to: www.xkkk.org
by Jon Mayhew