Paul Saltzman’s documentary The Last White Knight, playing as part of the UK Jewish Film festival, is a powerful and chilling reminder of recent American history. Canadian Saltzman, retells the events in 1960s Greenwood Mississippi that lead to him being punched outside the courthouse, by Ku Klux Klan member Delay de la Beckwith. It finds him reconnecting with Beckwith 43 years later and posing the question “Is reconciliation possible? “
The documentary chronicles a series of conversations between Saltzman and Beckwith that re-examines their personal connection and the events that surrounded it. Saltzman moved to Mississippi to support the civil rights movement. It was his involvement as a white Jewish male attempting to facilitate the black vote which lead to the attack by Beckwith. Saltzman quizzed Beckwith on his intentions “we didn’t want you to be involved,” he explained with a menacing smile and without remorse.
Saltzman fills in the historical gaps by interviewing both sides of this racially charged documentary. It is at times uncomfortable viewing, particularly when he speaks to three active Klansmen who explain “we are the superior race, they were created to be servants” referring to black Americans. They continue “it’s not hatred we feel, just pride in our own race.” Saltzman juxtaposes this with Morgan Freeman, still a Mississippi resident, who wisely describes that the race issue only exists in the mind and that “there is no difference in genetic structure.”
The Last White Knight details the assignation of civil rights leader Medgar Evers by Beckwith’s father Byron de la Beckwith and seeks to question why he was not convicted until 1994. There is a strong feeling that the many crimes that were committed in 1960s Mississippi have not been brought to justice. Harry Belafonte repeats “I don’t trust Mississippi” and it is easy to understand why.
Saltzman splits the screen at the conclusion of the film, portraying a Beckwith-Saltzman show down. Jew faces white supremacist and controversially Paul Saltzman bravely admits that he likes Delay de la Beckwith, despite wholly disagreeing with his ideology. The Last White Knight is more than just thought provoking it is an important documentary.