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The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  278 ratings  ·  56 reviews
C. P. Ellis grew up in the poor white section of Durham, North Carolina, and as a young man joined the Ku Klux Klan. Ann Atwater, a single mother from the poor black part of town, quit her job as a household domestic to join the civil rights fight. During the 1960s, as the country struggled with the explosive issue of race, Atwater and Ellis met on opposite sides of the pu ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 27th 2007 by University of North Carolina Press (first published 1996)
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4.03  · 
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 ·  278 ratings  ·  56 reviews

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Osha Gray Davidson
Sep 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wrote
I sympathize with readers who said it was slow reading, and if it's any consolation, it was far slower to write.
Fascinating and well-written history of Durham, NC and race relations in the downtown core from the late 19th century through to the mid-1970s. It is surprisingly relevant to current events given the book was written in the 1990s.

I think this is as accurate and even-handed a picture of central Durham and the integration of the city schools as can be written by someone who doesn't have roots in the area and who had to work with the (definitely not objective) newspaper coverage at the time. David
David Ward
The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South by Osha Gray Davidson (Scribner 1996) (305.800). This book has a distinctly National Public Radio flavoring to it. It's the story of how blacks overcame the status-quo Jim Crow South in the 1960's and 1970's in Durham, North Carolina. It follows two community organizers as they worked to improve the lot of their constituents: Ann Atwater was a poor uneducated black single parent who rose to a position of leadership among the poor blacks o ...more
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Just a note: even the author notes that it is slow reading. So, my five star rating does not ignore that. Set aside some time for this. It is worth it.
Terry Earley
Aug 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Mentioned in the book "Being Wrong" by Kathryn Schultz.

This book has been on my "want to read list" for years, but was unavailable at the local library. Finally, with the movie coming out, I got a copy via an interlibrary loan.

What a moving story. There is plenty of backstory, since the city of Durham plays a large role in this important time in the Civil Rights movement. Still, that was informative.

The important takeaway was the realization that the issues were not between races, but between th
Susan Chapek
This is an amazing book, framed as a dual biography, about Durham NC during the Civil Rights era.

The two principal subjects are Ann Atwater (an African-American Civil Rights activist) and C.P. Ellis (a member of the KKK); during the course of their activism they begin as bitter opponents, and slowly come to realize that they're both actually fighting the same enemies--chiefly poverty and lack of opportunity. This discovery, their extraordinary collaboration in working out the required integrati
Maya B
This was an interesting read. This book was mostly about the history and race relations in Durham, N.C. I felt the author only touched a little on C.P Ellis and Ann Atwater, who clearly did a lot to try to desegregate their communities. I was hoping the book would have been more about how these 2 individuals came together for a common cause and have the history of Durham as the backdrop.
Jun 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Really excellent historical outlay of Durham's history as well as a profile of Ann Atwater and CP Ellis.
Feb 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book! Not only the very compelling tale of KKK leader C.P. Ellis, and social activist, Ann Atwater, but an excellent of the civil rights struggle in this country and the pivotal role played by Durham, NC. Well researched, well written and well worth reading.
An intimate yet broad presentation of the slow gains made in racial reconciliation in today's South. Davidson (Under Fire: The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control, 1993, etc.) offers a study of racial tensions in the conte
Sean Mulligan
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Best of Enemies is a great book about the contradictions of race and class relations in Durham North Carolina and the South and how both race and class have shaped the people and history there. It is also about two seemingly opposite people, CP Ellis and Ann Atwater. Both of them were from poor families, but Ellis was a white man and Atwater was a black women. Ellis was an Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan and Atwater was a Civil Rights activist.

Durham history shows the influences of both
Leslie Shogren
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
I listened the audible version of this book after seeing the movie trailer for it. That being said, it was not 100% what I was expecting based on that trailer. The first 70% of the book was really a history of race relations in Durham, North Carolina alternating between the two main characters, CP (the head of the Klu Klux Klan) and Ann Atwater (an African American single mom). It was very detailed and tracked the civil rights movement, politics and the integration of the public school system. I ...more
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
What to say...this will be longer than any review I’ve done - sorry in advance.

I started this book as part of a book club where we had to choose a book that was/is being made into a movie.

I gave it 2 stars because it is a very hard read. It is not necessarily a story about two people and their efforts together to overcome racial inequality. That is what I thought the book was about.

The author really wanted you to understand the history of of what was happening at this time, which is a good thi
I found the history of Durham, NC with a focus on racism and the Civil Rights Movement to be interesting. Although this book is older, it's still relevant, and Osha Gray Davidson's major contribution/impact to a discussion of this history is his intentional exploration of the intersections of race *and class*, as well as his willingness to censure the ambivalence of both "moderate" black and white members of Durham (usually more affluent people) about race relations. This book was refreshing ins ...more
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just finished reading this book, and highly recommend it! I was really curious about the movie when I first heard about it. Great cast aside, it was a civil rights story I was unaware of. When I found out the movie was based on a book, I immediately knew I wanted to read it. Personal rule of reading a book before seeing an adaptation notwithstanding, I knew the book would be far more in-depth, and this was a relationship and event I definitely wanted to learn more about, and boy, did I ever. I l ...more
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, audio
Before seeing this movie, I wanted to read the book. I'm guessing that given the amount of historic detail, the book goes far beyond what the movie covers. I really enjoyed learning more about Durham and Ann Atwater and CP Ellis. This book is a great reminder that we have more in common than we have differences. It also is a great example of what can be done when we actually listen to understand. I thought it was so powerful when CP and Ann realized that neither one was the cause of their proble ...more
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a Durham resident and NC native, this history is crucial for me, a white woman hoping to raise antiracist children here. I was a little frustrated that it took so long to get to CP and Ann’s story, but after finishing it I understood why — it was a vignette in a longer epic, not enough for a standalone book.

It helped me also understand the importance of having respect for those who disagree with you / are hateful. I prefer to write them off and indulge my anger at them but the impact that a
Lori Peterson-Palmer
Not what I expected

First, the last 25% of this book is everything I had hoped the whole book would be like. Unfortunately, it was more a history lesson on the civil rights movement. Had the rest of the book been more personal where you could really invest in the main characters, I probably would have rated it with 5 stars! The history was interesting and I learned a lot, but I will take the personal narrative sprinkled with history over history sprinkled with a personal story any day!
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
2019 Reading Challenge: Set in Your Home State

This book is an in depth history into racism in the South, specifically Durham, NC. The first half is context and setting the stage for what ultimately becomes a inspirational story of a former Klan member who helps _integrate_ the schools. It shows that if you just put yourself (or are put into) a situation where you can learn about another person, even one who is hated, you may realize that there are always commonalities.

I learned a lot!
Monique Lary
This was an extremely well-researched book depicting the social forces and changes during the Civil Rights era. Despite wanting to race through it in time to still see the movie in the theater, this book was best taken in slower to absorb all the information while taking notes. This opened up my eyes to many more levels of the struggles of this era, some of which still carry over to present day to some degree. Great historical reference book!
Caroline (readtotheend on IG)
The last 60 pages or so of this book were excellent and what I thought the book was going to be about - the relationship between C. P. Ellis and Ann Atwater, two unlikely "friends". However, this book was more about the civil rights movement in Durham which is a fascinating history but not what I thought I had signed up for. It does read like a nonfiction book in that some of it is just hard, dry facts. It is a worthwhile read if you are interested in race relations in Durham, NC.
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
More than just a story about the relationship between two people. It’s mostly the history of race relations in America. Since I love history, I was totally enthralled in this book!! I’m not going to see the movie. I know that would ruin it.
May 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Book was interesting. Told some history of Durham.. Gave some details of other people with a follow up at the end of the book. Makes a good Book Group talk.
Tywanna Johnson
Apr 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Two Thumbs Up!
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not what I expected going, but came through the reading of it as grateful that it had crossed my path.
Chris Schutte
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A painful yet hopeful story of personal and cultural transformation around the issues of race and class.
Jan 22, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars
Candace James
Mar 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Eleven chapters on the history of racism in North Carolina. Three chapters on CP Ellis and Ann Atwater. I should’ve waited for the movie.
Shannan Harper
I read this book in anticipation of the movie, but it was a little hard to read. This is probably one of the few instances where I'll like the movie better than the book.
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook, true-story
This is a very interesting history focused on explaing issues of race and class in the America South during the civil rights movement. It focuses on C. P. Ellis the local leader of the KKK and Ann Atwater a local civil rights activist/leader in Durham North Carolina. It can be a little slow at points but overall I found this book to be a very insightful look at a turbulant time in american history. I feel like this book is very informative and well worth a read.
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent social history telling the story of transformation of a poor white leader of the KKK into a man who realizes that black people are human beings with the same need for respect and economic opportunity. He was appointed to a public school integration project with Ann Atwater, a black community organizer. Both started out being suspicious and hateful but they became friends and allies as they realized that both groups of people--poor whites and blacks--had been exploited by the South's ri ...more
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Osha Gray Davidson is a writer who focuses on energy, the environment and other social and human rights issues. He was born in Passaic, New Jersey, and grew up in Iowa, studying at the University of Iowa.

Osha Gray Davidson is an award-winning author of six books of non-fiction and more than a hundred articles on a range of topics. He covered the environment for Rolling Stone magazine and blogged o
“What an awful thing the truth is, and how comforting is a lie.” 0 likes
“You’ve got to be a warrior,” her father told her. “There are certain things you might have to do, for the sake of all black people. And no matter what you do as an individual, you’re reflecting your group and your family. So make sure you’re correct.” 0 likes
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