University of North Carolina Press
John Lewis Elwin Wilson KKK
For eighty years, we’ve waited for a reply to Birth of a Nation. At last Osha Gray Davidson has done the job. In a time of bleakness, it sounds a note of hope. The Best of Enemies is a glorious work. — Studs Terkel
The inspirational true story of how C.P. Ellis, Exalted Cyclops of the Durham, NC, Ku Klux Klan became friends with Ann Atwater, a militant black community organizer. In our racially divisive times, Osha Gray Davidson gives us a portrait of a friendship that defied all odds. And with characteristic skill and élan 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 a rich history with an inspiring personal saga to depict the triumph of the human spirit over the tragic past. (From the publisher)
352 pp., 61/8 x 91/4, 22 illus., notes, bibl., index
Ann Atwater was a black civil rights advocate, while C.P. Ellis was, when they first encountered each other, a Ku Klux Klansman. Needless to say, they hold deeply polarized positions on race, class and, specifically, school desegregation.
It took violent rioting in the wake of the King assassination and a violent confrontation between Ellis and Atwater at a school meeting to shock C.P. out of his old ways. He realized that the people he had been taught to view as enemies had a just cause, More important, both Atwater and Ellis came to accept that they shared a common struggle against Durham’s rich and powerful – a struggle in which they had a greater chance of victory if they worked together.
This eloquent blend of history and advocacy journalism ends with a follow-up on the major figures and with that rarest quality in a book on race in America – a reason for hope.
The Dallas Morning News
Mr. Davidson’s book provides a brilliant beginning for understanding the South’s many poor sons and daughters, black and white.
What could a white Ku Klux Klan leader and a black civil rights activist have in common? Far more than the gulf of racial hatred that divides them. That is the inspired message in Osha Gray Davidson’s remarkable book, The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South. At its core, this book tells the story of the unlikely friendship between C.P. Ellis, the Klan leader, and Ann Atwater, the civil rights activist. But this is as much a story of why they hated each other as how they came to be friends.
Mr. Davidson also tells a larger story, of how affluent whites have used the race issue for decades to divide poor whites and poor blacks. In the process, the author draws a rare portrait of poor white Southerners that is sympathetic, real and human.
“In slightly more than a generation, the Klan – an invention of the Southern upper classes – was universally regarded as a purely lower-class phenomenon,” Mr. Davidson writes. “The Southern redneck would prove to be one of the most durable inventions in American history.”