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

Osha Gray Davidson, Author
Osha Gray Davidson, Author Scribner Book Company $24.5 (0p) ISBN 978-0-684-19759-3
Reviewed on: 04/01/1996
Release date: 04/01/1996
Billed as the story of the friendship between black activist Ann Atwater and ex-Klansman C. P. Ellis (whose story was broached in Studs Terkel's Race), this book actually devotes few pages to that relationship. Rather, Davidson (Broken Heartland) has written a well-crafted portrait of the evolution of race relations in Durham, N.C.-and of America's tendency to ignore issues of class. He describes white Durham's historical self-delusion on race, and the student-fueled rise of 1960s civil rights activism. Atwater, a poor domestic, became inspired by a community organizer to become a goad to city officials. Meanwhile, Ellis, a poor white laborer who believed in segregation, decided to attend city functions to express the voice of poor whites. A daring city official put Atwater and Ellis in charge of a series of meetings on school desegregation. Ellis learned, to his surprise, that he and black parents shared many of the same class-based fears and concerns; this led to friendship with Atwater and his estrangement from the Klan. Unfortunately, this book ends at that turning point, in the early 1970s. (Apr.)
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