The 2016 documentary, ”Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America,” centers on a Black musician’s longtime mission of attempting to befriend White supremacists. PBS’ “Independent Lens” program aired the film for the first time on television last night (February 13), and it is now available for stream.
“Accidental Courtesy” follows Davis around the country as he delivers lectures about his work, chats with White hate group members and narrates his life story. Davis does not back down from arguing with these figures, getting National Socialist Movement commander Jeff Schoep to admit that American slavery was “a human travesty.”
The documentary also shows Davis’ friendship with some of these members. Frank Ancona, a former leader of the Missouri-based Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, describes Davis as his friend in the film, going so far as to give Davis a so-called “certificate of friendship” from the KKK. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported today (February 14) that Ancona’s wife and son face murder charges for allegedly shooting and killing him last week.
Davis explains in the film that he met his first Klansman in 1983, when he played piano at a country music bar in Maryland. A White man complimented his performance, saying, “This is the first time that I ever heard a Black man play piano like Jerry Lee Lewis.” Davis’ attempts to tell him that Lewis learned his style from Black blues musicians turned into a drink invitation, during which the man revealed his Klan membership. But instead of attacking the musician, the man asked Davis to reach out during his next tour.
That experience led Davis to believe that open conversations with White supremacists could effectively counter their racism. He elaborates on this belief in the following terms: “Let’s say you and 20 other people have this group that is anti-racist, and all you do is talk about how bad racism is. Well, what good is that group doing? All you’re doing is preaching to the choir.”
His belief puts him at odds with Black activists Kwame Rose and Tariq Touré, both of whom were active during the Baltimore Uprising. They argue with Davis in the film, saying that his methods target the wrong people. “Befriending a White person who doesn’t have to go through the struggles as you, me, the son in the barbershop or [his] father, that’s not an accomplishment,” says Rose. “That’s a new friend. That’s somebody you can call.” Davis retorts: “Now this is coming from a dropout.” Touré then leaves, calling Davis “disrespectful.”
The Daily Beast reported last year that an audience member at the film’s South by Southwest screening accused Davis of showing more respect to Klansmen than to the activists.
Viewers can stream “Accidental Courtesy” for free until February 27 via PBS.com.