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

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  652 ratings  ·  126 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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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 beginnin…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. ...more
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. ...more
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
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 a ...more
Feb 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: justice
I docked 1 star because I wanted more. The story was richer because of the history of Durham. But I wanted to know more about what happened to C.P. and Ann after. I was invested and wanted more than what the epilogue provided.
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 o ...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
Feb 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I confess that I skimmed parts of this book. It contains a very detailed history of Civil Rights in our country, much that I already knew. What I didn't know was the history of Civil Rights in Durham, NC. In this book a KKK leader and a female black activist who hated each other become dear friends while working on a Charette to improve the Durham County Schools for the sakes of thier children. ...more
Paula Lyle
Apr 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
If you are interested in the story promised by the title, you only need to read the last 50 pages. It's an interesting, sad story. The 250 pages prior to that tell the history of race relations in Durham, NC. That may or may not interest you. The book goes back and forward through time in a way that made me lose track of how this all takes place in history. Not what I expected. ...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.
JC Reilly
Sep 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I saw the movie last year and maybe initially wanted this book to be more focused on the work C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater did with the integration charette. However, gradually I came to appreciate how this was really a history of Durham's race relations--and the story of C.P. and Ann overcoming their differences needed to be contextualized by the history of the city first. It was a great book. Very readable and interesting. ...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
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, black-lives
Really excellent historical outlay of Durham's history as well as a profile of Ann Atwater and CP Ellis. ...more
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, especial
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
Kortney Fleming
Sep 25, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is a well-written, well-researched history of race relations in Durham, NC. It isn't easy reading, but it is important reading for everyone, not just Durham/NC Triangle residents. There was so much in here that I'm still digesting several days later - so much that wasn't covered when I went to school - e.g., there were many viewpoints in the black community about the best way to fight for civil rights. It connected a lot of dots for me, and helped me understand some of the major thread ...more
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
Noah Blanco
Jun 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Best of Enemies is an intense journey through the history of Durham, NC. Osha Gray Davidson painstakingly details the economic history of the town and builds up the historical basis for the racial conflicts which occurred there during desegregation culminating in the final chapters with the story of how CP Ellis, the leader of the KKK chapter in Durham, ends up formulating a strong bond with Ann Atwater, the african American civil rights leader of the town. They both provide leadership and i ...more
Oct 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020, favorites
I've watched the film based on the book (and the 2002 documentary) like three times, 'cuz I love Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. But, as with any biographical film, I think everything should be taken with a grain of salt. And, if there's more material to check to see what's fact and what's fiction, I'm always up to doing that. So this book has been on my list for a while, and I finally got around to it.

It is... Different from what I expected. But really, really good.

I thought it would be more
Cristy Wojdac
Nov 25, 2020 rated it liked it
The first 220 pages were like slogging through those college textbooks written by the professor; you just have to read it because it's on the syllabus. Fortunately for you, you're not taking Mr. Davidson's class, so unless you are a research geek, I recommend skipping to chapter 11 (chapter 9 if you've got the time, alternatively page 273-276 if you're just looking for the most powerful anecdote). I was most interested in the relationship between the 2 main characters, and the backstory with the ...more
Kenneth Barber
Apr 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book centering on racial issues in Durham,North Carolina. Ann Atwater, is an African American woman who finds herself involved in the fight for civil rights in Durham. Her main protagonist is CP Ellis, leader of the local KKK. After years of battling each, they find themselves as co-chairpersons of a group formed to work on integrating the local schools. In the process, Ann and CP become friends, CP is reviled by his fellow Klansmen and ends up quitting the Klan.he realize ...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 ins ...more
Elliot Ratzman
Most of the book is a solid journalistic history of Durham, NC: its industries, class and racial divisions. The subject of the (decent, but simplified) film—the unlikely friendship between Black community activist Ann Atwater and the Klan leader CP Ellis—occupies only the last third of the book. Nevertheless, this is a pretty satisfying narrative of the Civil Rights Movement with some figures that should warrant more attention: Howard Fuller, Bill Riddick, et al. Though written in the mid-1990s, ...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

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