The Best of Enemies: From Prejudice to Friendship in the Post Civil-Rights South

The Best of Enemies: From Prejudice to Friendship in the Post Civil-Rights South

by Osha Gray Davidson
     
 

Claiborne Paul Ellis, known to all as "C.P.," grew up in the "poor white" section of Durham, North Carolina, just north of the railroad tracks that marked the boundary between the white and black neighborhoods. Surrounded by poverty and affected early by a pervasive racism, C.P. devoured the tales his father told him of the secret, all-white society that would save…  See more details below

Overview

Claiborne Paul Ellis, known to all as "C.P.," grew up in the "poor white" section of Durham, North Carolina, just north of the railroad tracks that marked the boundary between the white and black neighborhoods. Surrounded by poverty and affected early by a pervasive racism, C.P. devoured the tales his father told him of the secret, all-white society that would save Dixie, and as a young man he joined the Ku Klux Klan. In 1955, Ann Atwater was employed as a domestic servant when the ripples from the Montgomery bus boycotts hit Durham. Incensed by a racist remark made by her employer, Ann quit her job to join the civil rights fight. During the 1960s, as the country struggled with the explosive issues of race and class, Ann met C.P. on opposite sides of the public school integration issue. Their encounters were charged with hatred and suspicion. Gradually, though, Ann and C.P. each came to see how the other had been exploited by the South's rigid power structure, and they forged a friendship that even today flourishes against a background of renewed bigotry. In our racially divisive times, Osha Gray Davidson gives us a vivid portrait of a friendship that defied all odds. And with characteristic skill and elan he probes one of the most crucial concerns at the heart of our culture: how and why race is a potentially destructive force. The Best of Enemies weaves rich history with an inspiring personal saga to depict the triumph of the human spirit over the tragic past.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
Billed as the story of the friendship between black activist Ann Atwater and ex-Klansman C. P. Ellis (whose story was broached in Studs Terkel's Race), this book actually devotes few pages to that relationship. Rather, Davidson (Broken Heartland) has written a well-crafted portrait of the evolution of race relations in Durham, N.C.-and of America's tendency to ignore issues of class. He describes white Durham's historical self-delusion on race, and the student-fueled rise of 1960s civil rights activism. Atwater, a poor domestic, became inspired by a community organizer to become a goad to city officials. Meanwhile, Ellis, a poor white laborer who believed in segregation, decided to attend city functions to express the voice of poor whites. A daring city official put Atwater and Ellis in charge of a series of meetings on school desegregation. Ellis learned, to his surprise, that he and black parents shared many of the same class-based fears and concerns; this led to friendship with Atwater and his estrangement from the Klan. Unfortunately, this book ends at that turning point, in the early 1970s.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Billed as the story of the friendship between black activist Ann Atwater and ex-Klansman C. P. Ellis (whose story was broached in Studs Terkel's Race), this book actually devotes few pages to that relationship. Rather, Davidson (Broken Heartland) has written a well-crafted portrait of the evolution of race relations in Durham, N.C.-and of America's tendency to ignore issues of class. He describes white Durham's historical self-delusion on race, and the student-fueled rise of 1960s civil rights activism. Atwater, a poor domestic, became inspired by a community organizer to become a goad to city officials. Meanwhile, Ellis, a poor white laborer who believed in segregation, decided to attend city functions to express the voice of poor whites. A daring city official put Atwater and Ellis in charge of a series of meetings on school desegregation. Ellis learned, to his surprise, that he and black parents shared many of the same class-based fears and concerns; this led to friendship with Atwater and his estrangement from the Klan. Unfortunately, this book ends at that turning point, in the early 1970s. (Apr.)
Margaret Flanagan
Davidson traces the course of the remarkable friendship that evolved between Ann Atwater, an outspoken black activist, and Claiborne Paul "C. P." Ellis, a ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. Both lower-class residents of Durham, North Carolina, Ann and C. P. continually crossed paths and swords during the emotionally charged civil rights movement of the 1960s. When they were asked to serve on a school desegregation committee, they discovered--to their mutual surprise and consternation--that they shared much common ground. In addition to being impoverished members of oppressed classes, both were determined to improve the educational and economic opportunities of their children. Their initially cautious relationship eventually blossomed into a committed friendship based on genuine affection and respect. The author places this tremendously insightful chronicle in its proper context by interweaving the narrative with brief histories of the city of Durham, the civil rights movement, and the Ku Klux Klan. A powerful testament to the redemptive powers of human nature.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684197593
Publisher:
Scribner
Publication date:
03/05/1996
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.45(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.13(d)

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