The Best of Enemies Summary & Study Guide

Osha Gray Davidson
This Study Guide consists of approximately 57 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Best of Enemies.
This section contains 522 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Best of Enemies Summary & Study Guide Description

The Best of Enemies Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Best of Enemies by Osha Gray Davidson.

The following version of this book was used to create the guide: Davidson, Osha Gray. The Best of Enemies: Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

The Best of Enemies by Osha Gray Davidson is a true story about an unlikely friendship that developed between two, low-income community activists, C.P. Ellis and Ann Atwater. The story takes place in Durham, North Carolina during the turbulent 1960’s and 70’s when the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak. Ellis is a leader of the local Ku Klux Klan chapter and Ann is a prominent and militant black activist. After having several public racially-charged confrontations and developing an intense disdain for each other, the two activists are brought together to deal with the issue of quality education for all students in Durham’s public schools. Through this process they gradually learn to see the humanity in each other and develop an understanding of the class structure in the South that oppresses both of them.

Throughout the book, both characters have to go through a transformative process before they can develop mutual trust and become close friends. Ellis grows up in extreme poverty with an alcoholic father, and a depressed, battered mother. Ellis’ father talks about the Ku Klux Klan in romantic terms and as a young man C.P. joins the racist organization. As a Klan member, Ellis finds meaning and purpose in his life. He learns that the white race is in danger of becoming contaminated through integration. He now has a calling and a higher purpose to keep the races separate and to fight for white rights. Ellis rises to the leadership position in the local KKK even though he has only an 8th grade education. As the Klan spokesman in Durham he seeks to achieve respectability for the Klan within the mainstream Durham political system.

Like Ellis, Ann Atwater is born into poverty. She has a short marriage as a teen and within a few years, finds herself as a single mother of three girls, living in dire poverty. Atwater finds work as a domestic for white families, but due to severe health problems she is unable to work and is forced to go on public assistance. Unable to pay her rent, she meets a community organizer, Howard Fuller, who successfully negotiates with her landlord. This experience opens up Atwater’s awareness and from that day on, she becomes a fearless, radical activist. Under the guidance of Fuller, Atwater goes through an intensive training process and becomes a civil rights and housing rights leader in Durham.

Months later, Ellis and Atwater are asked to co-chair a committee to oversee the desegregation issue in the Durham Public Schools. While they are barely able to contain their mutual hate at the beginning of the process, they slowly warm up to each other and go through a process of building trust and affection for each other. In Durham and throughout the United States, Ellis and Atwater serve as an example of how blacks and whites can overcome centuries of racial barriers by focusing on their commonalities and humanity.

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