The Best of Enemies, Movie Edition

Race and Redemption in the New South

By Osha Gray Davidson

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

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4660-2
    Published: February 2019
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-4661-9
    Published: November 2018
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5077-5
    Published: November 2018

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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, Ellis and Atwater 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.

Now a major motion picture, The Best of Enemies offers a vivid portrait of a relationship that defied all odds. View the movie trailer here:

About the Author

Osha Gray Davidson is a journalist and author most recently of Clean Break: The Story of Germany’s Energy Transformation and What Americans Can Learn From It.
For more information about Osha Gray Davidson, visit the Author Page.


“Postbellum realities of life in Dixie through the lens of Durham, North Carolina, are shared in this narrative nonfiction book. . . . The history of the civil rights movement is chronicled throughout the book, with a focus on the lives of C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater.”—Midwest Book Review

"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." —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

Multimedia & Links

Watch: Trailer for the film, starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell. In theaters April 2019.

Read: Author Q&A in The Crisis magazine (04/09/2019)