The Best of Enemies

Race and Redemption in the New South

By Osha Gray Davidson

With a new introduction by the author

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 22 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5869-1
    Published: August 2007
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-9977-9
    Published: August 2007

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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 public school integration issue. Their encounters were charged with hatred and suspicion. In an amazing set of transformations, however, each of them came to see how the other had been exploited by the South's rigid power structure, and they forged a friendship that flourished against a backdrop of unrelenting bigotry.

Rich with details about the rhythms of daily life in the mid-twentieth-century South, The Best of Enemies offers a vivid portrait of a relationship that defied all odds. By placing this very personal story into broader context, Osha Gray Davidson demonstrates that race is intimately tied to issues of class, and that cooperation is possible--even in the most divisive situations--when people begin to listen to one another.

About the Author

Osha Gray Davidson is a journalist and author of four other books, including The Enchanted Braid: Coming to Terms with Nature on the Coral Reef and Under Fire: The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control.
For more information about Osha Gray Davidson, visit the Author Page.


"For eighty years we've waited for a reply to Birth of a Nation. At last Osha Gray Davidson has done the job. The story of C. P. Ellis, Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan of Durham, North Carolina, and of Ann Atwater, a black civil rights advocate, his enemy for so many years, is one of the most moving love stories I've ever come across. More than that, in a time of bleakness, it sounds a note of hope. The Best of Enemies is a glorious work."--Studs Terkel

"Mr. Davidson's book provides a brilliant beginning for understanding the South's many poor sons and daughters, black and white."--The Dallas Morning News

"A well-crafted portrait of the evolution of race relations in Durham, N.C.--and of America's tendency to ignore issues of class."--Publishers Weekly

"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."--Kirkus Reviews

"A powerful testament to the redemptive powers of human nature."--Booklist