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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  489 ratings  ·  94 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 ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published August 27th 2007 by University of North Carolina Press (first published 1996)
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Rosalie I just finished reading the "movie edition" and it looks like the only change from the edition is the cover. I, too, found the history in the…moreI just finished reading the "movie edition" and it looks like the only change from the edition is the cover. I, too, found the history in the beginning of the book amazing. Without the history backstory, Atwater and Ellis's story would never have happened. Go for it in your book club and then have a dinner and a movie night! That's what my book club does with books made into movies!(less)

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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.
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extremely well written and researched story of race relations in Durham, North Carolina in the 1960's, and the transformation of the Executive Cyclops of the local KKK chapter with the realization that it is really class that has created the common problems he and his African-American fellow citizens face. For those familiar with at least some of the history of the civil rights movement, some of the people who figure in the story will be familiar.
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.
Lisa Mcbroom
If you want to talk about strange bedfellows... what would the local leader of The Ku Klux Klan in Durham NC in the 1950s and the 1960s and a Black Female Activist have to talk about??? C. P. Ellis and Ann Atwater are at odds with each other. However both are poor and want better schools for their children. When they are assigned to serve on a board together for their children's sake , they start a dialogue and come to respect each other. One of my favorite passages in the book, when they look ...more
Greg Nybo
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is a great synopsis of some of the civil rights movements in Durham. The majority of the book is spent discussing the issues and tensions of the area. Less time is spent illustrating the friendship of CP and Ann, but it does a great job of driving the similar problems they both were facing and perfectly shows how natural it was for their friendship to develop.
Champagne Carter
May 29, 2019 rated it did not like it
I rated this very low (and would have given 0 stars, if I could) because it was more of a history lesson than a story. The story of the characters didn’t really start until the end of the book. This was more of a history book and I fell asleep numerous times! Took me forever to get thru this short book. If you are a history buff, go for it! I am not! Movie was a little better. Check out our podcast which discusses the book to movie/TV transition called Read Watch & Wine at ...more
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 ...more
Natalie Ramos
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great Book and Movie teaches you that at the end of the day united we stand divided we fall so race and discrimination have nothing to do with it at all, so love one another and give them the respect you yourself crave and desire.
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
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
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
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, black-lives
Really excellent historical outlay of Durham's history as well as a profile of Ann Atwater and CP Ellis.
Jun 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Best of Enemies, based on the book by Osha Gray Davidson
8.6 out of 10

Although critics have not been enthusiastic about this motion picture, the undersigned has enjoyed very much, even if it will probably not gather Academy Award nominations and this is no Green Book.

Taraji P. Henson is formidable as Ann Atwater, a civil rights activist that tries to improve the life of African Americans in Durham, North Carolina, in 1971, when segregation was still the obsession of the white people,
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
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 - Shobizreads
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 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I talked with a colleague regularly while reading this book. I expressed some naïve surprise at how casually the Klan operated in the open in Durham in the 60s. She was in junior high school in Durham around the time, one of a handful of black students in a previously all-white school. She explained how unapologetically common it was, and talked about classmates who would talk and write about their weekends at the junior Klan rally or potluck. She said they talked about it the same way you might ...more
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 ...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 ...more
Sep 22, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: southern, non-fiction
Personally, I think that the biggest "problem" with this book is the way that it is marketed; it sets up the reader up. We pick up this book thinking it is a novel, or perhaps a true story of two literary characters. I have not fact checked this non-fiction piece of work, nor do I plan to, but I would assume due to the extensive research of the author that it is correct. It is a great historical text. I am from Raleigh, NC, right next to Durham, so it was interesting to learn about the history ...more
Peggy Lavinder
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. Found it randomly (but maybe not) searching civil rights era on my library app. If you care you’ll see, this has been my genre for the last 3 years but I’d never heard of this book or movie!
I’m also very interested in bridging,reconciling,repairing racism. But first I had to learn about so much I wasn’t taught,around,aware of,doing re racism. For example I was completely ignorant of Massive Resistance and I’m a life long
Cindy Brookshire
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
No, I have not seen the movie, so the movie didn't prompt me to read this book. Someone recommended this book when I first moved to North Carolina, so I ordered a used copy online, and it arrived with Ann Atwater's autograph. I know I should have kept it, but the book was so good I have already passed it on to another community activist and historian to read. The book is a back story blunt look at race relations in Durham, and the last part of the book is about the charrette that brought ...more
Jun 05, 2019 rated it liked it
I, like so many others, went into this book thinking it was going to be all about how Ann Atwater and CP Ellis’s relationship grew and changed while they worked for school integration. And the last 2 chapters of the book were exactly that. The other 12 chapters give an extensive history on race relations, civil rights, and socioeconomics in Durham dating back to 1864. Now that I have finished the book I understand why all that information was important. CP finally came to understand that the ...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 ...more
India Lavoyce
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author, Mr. Osha G Davidson, did his research. It was almost too much extra info, but not on C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater. He gave us a big history lesson on North Carolina’s race and poverty issues. That was too much, but it held my interest because of the sprinkle of facts about the two main characters here and there. There are 14 chapters in the book. CP and Ann don’t even meet until chapter 8 ,Bruh... Then the action between them doesn’t start until chapter 12. Chapter 8-12 they just ...more
Diane Adams
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book for a book challenge, because it came out as movie this year. I still want to see the movie, though its reviews were mixed, at best. Really interesting story, though it took a while to get into the book. A lot of history, which is certainly important, but the part that really grabbed my attention was the lives of the two individuals whose story is told here--a white Klansman and a black female activist, who find themselves assigned to work together towards integrating schools in ...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
Aug 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in Durham, NC in the 1960's in the midst of the question of school desegregation, this historical account focuses primarily on two characters: KKK grand dragon, C.P. Ellis, and black social activist, Ann Atwater. Their stories are the most compelling part of this book; a wonderful story of redemption and change. Understandably, the author goes into much of the surrounding development of the civil rights movement, primarily in Durham, these parts of the book were far less interesting for me, ...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
“Peace without justice and equal opportunity is no Peace.” 1 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.” 1 likes
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