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Racist Structures for Analyzing 'The Best of Enemies' by Osha Gray Davidson

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The struggle of racism has hurt many people of color, but has brought upon good fortune from their actions to be treated as citizens of the U.S. The movements that occurred during history, have shaped the black community, giving them hope for the future. These movements have also changed the minds of many whites to see the error in their ways and accept this change. Osha Gray Davidson wrote the book ‘The Best of Enemies’ and how it offered a portrait of relationships that defied all odds. By taking a true story of effort and charisma from one black woman, Ann G. Atwater, and her unlikely friendship with C.P. Ellis, leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Osha Davidson demonstrates that race is tied to issues of class, and that cooperation is possible when people start to listen to one another, even in the most divisive situations. Each person had their own fights that they were passionate about, Atwater with her fight for better housing in the black community and Ellis’ fight in school segregation. These two activists were from different worlds, but had more in common with each other when it came to doing the right thing for both sides. Ellis recalls, “Both of us were like two people without a country for a while there”. He is stating that they were both being assailed by their friends from their betrayal to the fight since they were working with one another.

The actions taken by previous activist have sparked someone else to the fight, Ann Atwater, fighting for better housing for blacks. In the past, segregation for housing was an issue for blacks who wanted to move or live in a better home, but loans were not in their favor. There was a suburbia called Levittown, an area where veterans coming home can buy affordable homes. These suburbs were a safe haven for whites moving there because it was paradise to them, even if it was a fake utopia. In the 1930s, as part of the new deal, FER created loan programs to help Americans finance their homes. However, to decide who got these loans, the government created redlining (color-coded maps) resembling green areas as good and red areas as bad. The red areas had it rough since they were filled with African Americans and other minorities living there and they were not allowed to have any loans. Ann Atwater worked with an organization called “Operation Breakthrough” was designed to promote cooperation between federal and local governments and raise levels of competition in the housing construction industry. Operation Breakthrough became top priority during the first Nixon administration, conceived as a program for mass construction of low-and-moderate income housing. In Durham, poverty was still a problem that some had to fight both racial and class divisions: One against whites who claimed superiority and wealthier blacks who didn’t associate with lower class. These struggles helped shape Atwater to become an activist for the poor black community. Ann Atwater began to represent poor people with housing problems, and would go door-to-door telling others how she was able to resolve this problem. One act of her was giving everyone a welfare regulation manual so people could learn their rights. Atwater mobilized poor blacks in Durham to stand up and teach them the necessary skills to survive.

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While learning about race and equality, we see that whites are considered as wealthy people without a worry in the world, but those statements can be thrown out the window after hearing about C.P. Ellis. Claiborne Paul Ellis, known as C.P., lived on the north part of the railroad tracks separating each race in Durham. His house can be compared to how blacks live: small, dark, and cramped. Their everyday life was the same just as past generations, you’re born, get schooling and work, until retirement or death. Later, families decided to send their children to northern colleges to learn all the latest management techniques. C.P. Ellis had experienced an awakening for realizing that he was white. He started to wonder about the race in America and what only matter was more of ideology than of genetics. He realized this while playing sports with some black kids and after the loss, one of the white kids blurted out, “You niggers get back across the track” (Davidson, 64). This statement shows how these were raised to treat black people, even though they were in the same boat as them when it came to living arrangements. To make things better in C.P. situation, he said back himself and felt a tingle coursing through his body. C.P. father blamed blacks for their lifestyle and Ellis caught on with that theory, only because his father blamed blacks for not having money to take his boy to a ball game. After Paul Ellis passed, C.P. took what his father told him to heart, but it did not work out in his favor, “Do right, support the police, salute the flag and good things will happen to you” (Davidson, 70). As Ellis got older, he got fed up with the disillusion of the American Dream and the strain of taking care of a wife and kids, which one was deaf, he needed to blame someone. Through men he worked with, they invited him to join the KKK and he became an active member, climbing his way to the top as the Exalted Cyclops. However, after meeting Ann, they both came to an understanding of what they were fighting for and he became civil rights activist.

During the 20th century, schools were still considered segregated between blacks and whites because public schools in the south. The NAACP challenged educational inequality in the region in a series of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court between 1935 and 1950. The NAACP contested the segregated education with accordance to the constitution by pressing five cases challenging Jim Crow schools through the federal courts. Marshall and a team of NAACP lawyers decided to press the court to end segregated public education. C.P. Ellis was a chairman for the “Save Our School” Program (SOS) with Ann Atwater, which is a series of open forums on school problems in Durham. SOS was an “charrette,” with intensive community involvement in certain areas helping with problems and formulating a solution. When told about the needs for students, Ellis brought up problems in school violence and asked for more law enforcement in school cases. From his actions, Ellis achieved good personal relationships with black leaders who in return praised his “honesty” and charged white moderates with “hypocrisy”. Ellis had this to say about Atwater, “I used to think that Ann Atwater was the meanest black woman I’d ever seen in my life…but, you know, she and I got together one day for an hour or two and talked. And she is trying to help her people like I’m trying to help my people”. Ellis came to the realization that they were both fighting for their own communities and found that they were more alike after one day of talking. The program “S.O.S” wanted to achieve integration of schools peacefully, so they created an exhibit in R.N. Harris Elementary to show the children both sides of the community. They had different artifacts from both the black and white communities, but the most controversial piece was a set of KKK robes that CP brought. They wanted to use education to teach both black and white children about each community to get a general understanding that they hoped would end violence and lead to a better education for both races.

Therefore, Ann Atwater and Claiborne Paul Ellis have changed things for the better for public schools and making them integrated. These two major influencers discovered that their life experiences were not all that different and created something that would benefit children, even adults. Both grew up in poverty and shared concerns for the education of young people in their communities, including their own. Atwater was already fighting for this cause for the sake of future generations, but Ellis began to realize that desegregation and civil rights were universally beneficial across racial lines. The system that held their communities down became their common enemy, not each other. Before, these figures did not want anything to do with each other because of their beliefs and past experiences that made them to who they were today. Reading this book, it gave me an understanding that it was possible for both sides to have a common interest and come together for that interest. After 10 days of talking, Atwater and Ellis came to know each other as individuals and not as stereotypes. They became the unlikeliest of friends that could prosper more as a team to the civil-rights movement than never talking and keeping things as they were.

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Racist Structures for Analyzing ‘The Best of Enemies’ by Osha Gray Davidson. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“Racist Structures for Analyzing ‘The Best of Enemies’ by Osha Gray Davidson.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
Racist Structures for Analyzing ‘The Best of Enemies’ by Osha Gray Davidson. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Feb. 2024].
Racist Structures for Analyzing ‘The Best of Enemies’ by Osha Gray Davidson [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from:
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