Apostle of Hate—Minister of Healing
by Melanie Hemry
"Is this Johnny Lee Clary?" A voice asked on the other end of the phone.
"The Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan for Oklahoma?"
"Mr. Clary, I'm calling on behalf of a local radio station. We would like to invite you here to the station next Sunday evening for an interview. The program will be live. During that time, we would allow you to read your literature and share your views openly."
Share my views on the radio? There's no telling how many new kids I can recruit! Johnny leaned back in his chair and propped up his feet.
"I'd be most honored to be your guest," he answered, a slow smile spreading across his face. Unlike most Klan members, Johnny Lee didn't shun publicity. He hadn't even minded when television cameras followed him around to schools in the Oklahoma City area, where he recruited kids. The way he looked at it, a man ought to stand up for the truth. And one thing Johnny Lee Clary knew for certain - the Ku Klux Klan stood for the truth.
Seeds of Hatred
His own education in that "truth" began early. He'd been only 5 when he looked out the car window in amazement. "Look, Daddy!" he'd said. "There's a chocolate-covered man!"
His daddy blew cigar smoke out the window in disgust. "That's not a chocolate-covered man," he said. "That's a n-----. Can you say, 'n-----'?"
Johnny Lee had leaned out the window and shouted, "N-----!" His daddy laughed and patted him on the back.
Johnny Lee's training continued when his Uncle Harold would visit from Georgia and tell his stories about the KKK. "I shot a black man for crossing my property," he once bragged to Johnny Lee's father. "The police didn't care that I shot him. But they did fine me for firing a gun in the city limits!" The two men laughed until their faces were red.
Johnny Lee's dad wasn't a member of the Klan. He couldn't be. He was Catholic. One group the Klan hated almost as much as blacks and Jews was Catholics. Johnny's daddy never attended Mass, but he made sure that Johnny Lee was on the Sunday school bus every week to the First Baptist Church.
That is, until the day Johnny Lee leaned out the bus window and screamed, "N-----!" to a black child on the street. That day, Johnny Lee's Sunday school teacher pulled him aside and taught him a song. At home, he proudly sang it for his father.
"Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white...."
Johnny Lee's daddy never let him go back to that church. He found one closer to home - an all-white church.
Everyone in their neighborhood hated Johnny Lee's family. The neighbors considered them "white trash." Of course, nobody dared call them that. They were afraid to.
The Clary family's popularity took a sudden turn, however, when a black family bought a house in the neighborhood. The whole neighborhood came to Johnny Lee's daddy and asked him to help them get rid of the family. They were willing to buy them out, if they'd leave.
Unfortunately, the neighbors' sudden acceptance of the Clarys didn't make Johnny Lee's family any happier. His parents fought constantly. Their marriage ended tragically when, one night, 11-year-old Johnny Lee walked into a room to see his daddy holding a gun to his head. "Daddy, don't!" he screamed, then watched as his daddy shot himself to death.
After the funeral, Johnny Lee went to live with his older sister in California. But he wasn't happy there. As the months passed, Johnny Lee became more and more lonely. That's when he saw a talk show host interviewing David Duke, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Remembering his Uncle Harold, Johnny Lee decided to contact the Klan. Within a few weeks, a man knocked at his door.
"I'm a friend of David Duke," he said. The man sat down and talked to Johnny Lee. "What do you like? Tell me about your life."
Johnny Lee was in awe. Someone wants to hear what I have to say!
"Son, you've had a hard, horrible life," the man said. "What you need is a family. A real family. That's what the Ku Klux Klan is - a fraternal order. That means family."
Week after week, the man took Johnny Lee to his house for meetings. It was almost as if he had a father again. Between meetings, Johnny studied about the Klan. He was amazed to learn what prominent people were former Klansmen, including at least three U.S. presidents.
Johnny Lee trembled with excitement the day he joined the KKK. He was 14 years old. By age 20, Johnny Lee had worked his way up in the organization, first serving as Duke's bodyguard and later, becoming the Grand Dragon of Oklahoma.
Confronted by Love
"It was 1979 when I was invited to do the radio interview," Johnny Lee recalls. "I was so excited, I told everyone to tune in. Then, a few days before the interview, I was listening to the radio when they announced the upcoming debate between myself and the state president of the NAACP, the Rev. Wade Watts!
"I'd never actually met a black man. But I knew what to expect: A man in African robes sporting a huge Afro, a button that said, 'I hate white people,' and a sign, 'Black is beautiful.'
"I wasn't prepared for a nicely dressed, older black man carrying a worn Bible."
On the day of the debate, Rev. Watts walked up to Johnny Lee - his hand outstretched. "Hello, Mr. Clary. I just want to tell you I love you, and Jesus loves you."
Stunned, Johnny Lee shook the man's hand without thinking. The physical touch of a Negro is pollution, he thought.
"Don't worry, son," Rev. Watts said with a grin. "It doesn't rub off."
He has a sense of humor...?
"Why do you feel the two races shouldn't mingle?" the interviewer asked Johnny Lee as the debate began. "Because Christ ordered it," he explained.
"Son," Rev. Watts interrupted, "where did you get that idea?"
The only Bible verses Johnny Lee knew were the ones outlined in the KKK literature. Speaking slowly, Johnny Lee quoted, "What fellowship hath light with darkness...."
Rev. Watts explained that the scripture was referring to the believer and the nonbeliever, and to sin and righteousness. Then he asked Johnny Lee, "What color skin do you think an Ethiopian has?"
"Black as the ace of spades," Johnny responded.
"I'm glad you said that," Rev. Watts answered. "If you'll look in Numbers 12, you'll see that Moses married an Ethiopian woman. His sister, Miriam, didn't like it either. She talked against Moses and was struck with a horrible disease." He paused for a moment. "You can imagine what is going to happen to you."
Johnny Lee shifted uncomfortably in his chair. This wasn't turning out the way he expected. "Look here," he said, "white people are smarter than black people."
"How do you figure that?" Rev. Watts asked. Johnny Lee told him about an intelligence test that proved white children were smarter than black children.
"What color were the men who came up with that test?" Rev. Watts asked.
"It doesn't matter what color they were!" Johnny declared.
"Well, then," said Rev. Watts, "if it doesn't matter, I'll give you a test right now, and we'll see if you can pass it."
"If you think you're so smart, go ahead."
"How long is the average cockroach?" Rev. Watts asked Johnny Lee. "Do roaches walk, or do they fly? How long does it take a mess of chitlins to cook? What are chitlins?"
"Rev. Watts, you rigged that test," Johnny Lee fumed. "White folks aren't supposed to know that stuff."
"Mr. Clary, now you're getting my point."
Johnny Lee had to do something to get control of the interview. "Look," he said, trying to stay calm, "Thomas Jefferson helped pen our Constitution, and he said emphatically that the two races should never mix."
"I'm impressed that you know so much about our forefathers, Mr. Clary. Does the name Sally Hemmings mean anything to you?"
"She was Thomas Jefferson's mistress," Rev. Watts said. "They had seven children. She was his personal property. His slave. She was as black as the ace of spades."
"I'm not going to stay here and listen to any more of this!" Johnny fumed, storming out of the room.
Johnny Lee was surprised later when he saw Rev. Watts holding a baby girl. Lifting up the child, Rev. Watts said to Johnny Lee, "This baby's parents were teenagers. Her mother was white and her daddy was black. The boy's family said they wouldn't have a white child in their home, and the girl's family said they wouldn't have a black child in their home. So I adopted her. Tia is my baby now. Mr. Clary, how can you hate this baby?"
Johnny Lee turned to leave.
"You can't do enough to make me hate you," Rev. Watts said to Johnny Lee. "I'm going to love you and pray for you, whether you like it or not."
A short time later, Rev. Watts' church was burned. His family was plagued with vicious, hate-filled phone calls, and often found notes..."KKK is watching you."
Love Your Enemies
"During the next 10 years, I gained more and more power in the Klan," Johnny Lee remembers. "Yet during those years, we never stopped persecuting Rev. Watts. The only thing that bothered me was a recurring dream I had of that baby girl. She was beautiful. And she was the only seed of doubt in my life. Somehow, it didn't seem right to hate her. It didn't seem right for her to die. But I knew the Klan's Final Solution included extermination of the race - including babies.
"I didn't let that seed of doubt hinder my work, though. When Rev. Watts joined ranks with an Oklahoma senator to make the Klan's racist hot lines illegal, my blood was boiling."
Johnny Lee called Rev. Watts. "I know you're behind this," he said. "We're coming to get you, and we're going to beat you...."
"Hello, Johnny Lee! How's the family?"
"I said we're coming for you!"
"You don't have to come for me, I'll meet you. How about Pete's Place out on Highway 270?"
"Johnny Lee, they have the best home cooking you ever tasted. And apple pie that'll make you cry for more. Iced tea in those Mason jars. I can taste it now."
"Did you hear what I said?" Johnny Lee demanded. "We're going to beat you!"
"You be sure and bring all the boys..."
"I said we're going to beat you!"
"I heard you, and that's just fine. But first, I want to buy you boys dinner. Did I tell you about their potatoes?"
Johnny Lee hung up. "What did he say?" the Klan members asked.
"He talked about home cooking, apple pie and iced tea. Said he wanted to buy our dinner."
"That old man's gone pure crazy," someone said. "Let's leave him alone."
And they did.
"During the months that followed, a girl I had dated challenged me to go to church," Johnny Lee recalls. "I decided to take her up on it, so I called an elder at Crossroads Cathedral in Oklahoma City. He met with me, and led me to the Lord. I asked Jesus into my life and received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. A month later, someone asked me to speak at a Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship. I hadn't even broken ties with the Klan.
"Soon, word of my salvation reached the media, and a local newspaper asked for an interview. I gave it, and the next thing I knew I got a phone call from the Klan. I broke into a cold sweat when they said they were coming after me. I was scared."
"What are you doing, Clary?" they asked when they arrived.
Frightened for his life, Johnny Lee turned his back on God and the Church, and begged forgiveness from the Klan. He was given a second chance.
The Way Home
In 1989, Johnny Lee was appointed Imperial Wizard of the KKK.
"I wanted to unify all the hate groups - the different factions of the Klan, the Skinheads, the Patriots, the Neo-Nazis, the Militias, the Populists and the Aryan Nations - under one common organization," Johnny Lee recalled.
He spent months arranging a national meeting of all the white supremacist groups. Finally, all the players were in place.
What Johnny Lee didn't know, however, was that the FBI had tapped his phone and knew his plan. They arrested him on his way to the meeting.
Without his presence, the meeting fell apart. By the time Johnny Lee was released and arrived at the rally site, the different factions were fighting among themselves.
Johnny Lee surveyed the scene in disgust. I gave up my wife and child for these people. I gave up my life for this organization, and all they want to do is kill one another.
On his return home, Johnny Lee faced staggering legal battles and attorney fees. He was also disillusioned.
Where was the loyalty? he wondered. What happened to brotherhood? Wasn't the Klan supposed to be family?
Soon afterward, Johnny Lee resigned as Imperial Wizard, and walked away from the Klan. He took a good look at himself, and didn't like what he saw.
"I'd hit an all-time low in my life," Johnny Lee recalled. "Whenever I applied for a job, people just laughed."
As the months passed, Johnny Lee became more and more despondent.
Then he had a thought: Daddy escaped it all. I could go be with my dad, then I wouldn't have to worry about some Klansman putting a bullet in me.
Johnny Lee loaded his gun and put the barrel to his head.
The afternoon sun filtered through the closed blinds, casting tiny lines of light onto a Bible that lay gathering dust.
The only happiness, the only peace in my life, were those few months at Crossroads Cathedral, Johnny Lee thought. But now, it's too late for me...
The dusty Bible caught Johnny Lee's eye. He put down the gun, and picked up the Bible. It fell open to Luke 15 - the story of the prodigal son.
Johnny Lee read the story once, then again, then a third time.
"I know what You're trying to tell me, God," he said, weeping. "That younger son turned his back on his father and wasted his life. But when he came home, the father welcomed him. You're telling me I can come home.
"God, I have no one else to turn to except You. I ask You to forgive me for the way I lived...for all the hatred. Please, come into my heart, Jesus, and change me."
In the space of a heartbeat, the weight of years of hatred melted off Johnny Lee Clary. Weeping openly, he raised his hands and worshiped God. Then he picked up the Bible and read for hours.
The Right Church
"I was living in Tulsa, Okla. - too far to drive to Crossroads Cathedral," Johnny Lee recalls. "I visited a few churches, and although I enjoyed them very much, I knew none of them was where I was supposed to be. Each one had an all-white congregation. I knew God would never allow me to join an all-white church.
"That week, I saw an ad in the newspaper, 'Victory Christian Center - A Church For All Races.' The next Sunday, I walked into that church and knew it was right. There were blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Filipinos, every race seemed to be represented."
Johnny Lee joined the church.
"This time, I didn't tell anyone who I was. Eventually, someone recognized me, and I wrote a letter to the pastor, Billy Joe Daugherty, explaining that I'd been the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He wrote back, encouraging me to spend time getting grounded in God's Word.
"God helped me get a job and, for the first time since 1982, I was happy. In addition to listening to the Word at church, I was introduced to the teaching of Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. I tuned in to their Believer's Voice of Victory program, bought their tapes and learned about faith.
"In 1991, during one of Pastor Billy Joe's sermons, the Lord called me to preach. Billy Joe's wife, Sharon, walked over to me and announced, 'God didn't save you for you to sit in Tulsa. He's commanded you to go into the world and get people saved.' "
A few weeks later, Johnny Lee heard the Lord again. Call Rev. Watts.
"Hello, Johnny Lee," Rev. Watts said warmly.
"Rev. Watts, I wanted you to know that I resigned from the KKK in 1989. I gave my heart to Jesus, and I'm a member of Victory Christian Center, an interracial church. My mind is being renewed, and God has called me to preach."
"Well, praise the Lord, son!" Rev. Watts said. "Would you do me the honor of speaking at my all-black church?"
Johnny Lee choked back the tears. "I'd love to."
When Johnny Lee arrived to speak at Rev. Watts' church, there were cameras and news reporters everywhere. Once inside, Johnny Lee Clary stepped up to the podium and looked out over the sea of black faces. He saw people made in the image of God, souls that Jesus had died to save. The contempt he once felt had been replaced with a love so great, so powerful, that his knees felt weak.
This, he realized, is what real unity is all about. It was not what he had tried to do through the KKK. Real unity is only possible through love.
Johnny Lee told his story, and what Jesus had done for him. Afterward, a teenage girl ran down the aisle. "I want to know the same Jesus you know," she said.
As the altar filled with people wanting to know Johnny Lee's Jesus, he heard Rev. Watts weeping.
"Do you know who that is?" Watts asked, pointing at the young girl Johnny Lee had just led to the Lord.
"No," Johnny Lee answered.
"That's Tia," Rev. Watts said. "She's the baby I shoved in your face that day at the radio station!"
Johnny Lee turned to look at the beautiful face beaming at him. She was the baby he couldn't hate.
Rev. Watts and his wife had 13 children. Nine of them had given their lives to Jesus. In the throng of people who crowded the altar that night, Johnny Lee was privileged to introduce the other four to the Lord Jesus.
After the service, Rev. Watts and Johnny Lee embraced. An elderly black pastor wrapped his arms around a young, white, former Klansman. They both wept.
"All those years I prayed for you!" Watts said. "I never dreamed that God would use you to bring my own children into the kingdom!"
It's been more than six years now since Johnny Lee preached at Rev. Watts' church, and many things have changed. But both men still work untiringly - to spread the gospel and promote racial reconciliation.
Today, Johnny Lee Clary's greatest thrill in ministry occurs when he ministers alongside Rev. Wade Watts. His second greatest thrill is being a godfather to young Tia Watts.
Johnny Lee Clary stands amazed that one man - the man he persecuted - prayed him out of hell on earth and into heaven for eternity. Before, that kind of love was unfathomable to Johnny Lee. Now, it is a way of life.
God has chosen you to be born in the most crucial time in the history of the world. “Wait!” you might say. “What do I have to offer a hurting world?” I’m glad you asked. Yes, there are wars, terrorist attacks, AIDS, epidemics, earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters—BUT God has a secret weapon that He has kept hidden for such a time as this. What is that powerful weapon? It is YOU emerging from the cocoon of your Clark Kent self and becoming everything that God created you to be. This site is dedicated to helping you realize who you are in Christ and how you can release the power of God to a hurting world.