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Taraji P. Henson
Born: September 11, 1970
Washington, District of Columbia, USA
Born: July 1, 1935
Birthplace: Hallsboro, North Carolina, USA
Death: June 20, 2016, Durham, North Carolina, USA
Born: November 5, 1968
Daly City, California, USA
Born: January 8, 1927
Birthplace: Durham, North Carolina, USA
Death: November 3, 2005, Durham, North Carolina, USA (Alzheimer's disease)
Born: May 25, 1969
Aurora, Ohio, USA
Born: November 17, 1929
Death: October 22, 1999
London, England, UK
Pictured in 2011
Yes. The Best of Enemies true story reveals that Ann Atwater got married at the age of 14 and moved to Durham, NC in 1953. Ann's dad had encouraged her baby's father to marry her. However, her husband soon left her, and she was faced with raising their two children on her own.
Yes. In researching The Best of Enemies' historical accuracy, we learned that C.P. Ellis was the son of a millworker and was raised in poverty. As an adult, he worked as a service station attendant before saving up enough money to buy a small service station in a factory town. He struggled to make ends meet and provide for his family.
Yes. Like in The Best of Enemies movie, the true story confirms that Ann Atwater first met C.P. Ellis at a city council meeting where Ellis went on a racist diatribe. Atwater lunged at him but her friends restrained her.
"This particular night C.P. was up raging and ranting, that's when I wanted to cut his head off. ... I pulled out, I had a little small knife, pocket knife." A friend talked her out of trying to stab C.P., telling her, "That's what they want you to do." -An Unlikely Friendship Documentary
Like Ann Atwater, Claiborne Paul Ellis was raised in a life of poverty. He grew up in the tobacco and textile town of Durham, North Carolina. Racism was instilled in Ellis from a young age. His father and local community blamed poor blacks for their problems, and reasoned that blacks were to blame for why they could never get ahead regardless of how hard they worked.
"The first time I ever used that N-word was in a little old football field down on the eastern section of Durham, right beside the railroad track," recalled C.P. Ellis. "On Sunday afternoon, the little black kids would come across the railroad track and meet down there in the field. We'd come from the other side, and we'd meet there with 'em. One Sunday, they won the football game, and I remember very clearly, saying, "You n**gers get back across the railroad track." When later asked when it was that he joined the Klan, he would respond by saying it was when he was in that football field and called that little boy what he did. -An Unlikely Friendship Documentary
These bigoted beliefs are what led Ellis to become a member of the local Ku Klux Klan. In the documentary, he states that the organization's teachings positioned "blacks, Jews, and Catholics" as the enemy. The movie fictionalizes this to blacks, Jews, and Communists, not Catholics. The real Ellis started a youth group designed to indoctrinate young people. C.P. Ellis eventually took on leadership roles in the KKK and was voted into the position of "Grand Cyclops" of the Durham, NC, chapter. He was paired with Ann Atwater in 1971 when they were both picked to co-chair the committee on school desegregation.
Yes. C.P. Ellis and his wife Mary had a son who they called Punkin'. He was blind, deaf, and suffered from an intellectual disability. They raised him until approximately age 11, when he was placed in an institution. -The Best of Enemies book
Even though the Supreme Court had ruled in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that schools had to be desegregated, this by no means meant that there wasn't a great deal of resistance in some communities, especially in the South. In real life, the labor union (AFL-CIO) in Durham was given a grant to help mediate the problem, after which a 10-day public meeting, or charrette, was held. Local leaders, in addition to the organizer of the charrette, Bill Riddick (portrayed by Babou Ceesay in the movie), decided that Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis were the best choices to present a variety of viewpoints from opposing sides, so they had them chair the meeting together.
"We were chosen to be co-chairs to integrate the school system peacefully," said Atwater (School for Conversion). The pair weren't the first choices. However, more prominent members of the community felt that the issue was too hot to get involved in.
Yes. "He didn't want [integration]," said Atwater of C.P. Ellis, "and I particularly didn't want it at the time, but then I knew we were going to have to be at one school and the children had to get the best education they could. I know if we weren't gonna look after our children, nobody else would. ... He was upset and I was upset, and he was cussin' and callin' all black folks n**gers and I was callin' all white folks crackers, and I couldn't stand white folks anyway." -School for Conversion
No. In the movie, it's hard to tell if they're trying to kill the woman or frighten her, but there's no mention of the shooting in either the documentary or The Best of Enemies book.
Yes. According to The Best of Enemies true story, Ann says that C.P. Ellis indeed started tapping his feet and then clapping his hands along with the others. However, she says that they had to teach him how to clap his hands in rhythm and not on an odd beat. -An Unlikely Friendship Documentary
Yes. "The city council people didn't want to look at us because we were black," said Ann. "They would turn their chairs around, and they were chairs that wheeled around. They would turn their back to us, and I would walk up and knock 'em back around, you know, let them know that we were talking to them." -An Unlikely Friendship Documentary
Yes. Following his nearly two-week long meeting with Ann Atwater, C.P. Ellis quit the KKK. Like in The Best of Enemies movie, examining the fact vs. fiction reveals that he did tear up his KKK membership card in public. His action resulted in death threats and he was shunned by a significant portion of his community. "I never did go back to the Klan after I left that school program," Ellis said. As a result, there was no one to direct the Klan's Youth Corp and the program disbanded. -An Unlikely Friendship Documentary
Yes. In examining The Best of Enemies' historical accuracy, we learned that Ann Atwater was ridiculed by some in her community over the fact that she had worked with C.P. Ellis. "They said I sold out because I worked with a Klansman," recalled Atwater. "He changed from a Klansman to a Christian, and they said I had sold out, that he was a n**ger lover." -School for Conversion Interview
Yes. Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis formed a lifelong friendship. "We've made it through these years, together 30 years, and we're still friends," Ann said in the documentary. Ann actually gave Ellis' eulogy when he passed away. Ann's granddaughter says that she's always viewed C.P. Ellis like an uncle and still keeps in touch with his family.
Ann Atwater continued her work fighting for racial equality as a grass roots organizer, passing away in 2016. C.P. Ellis, who died of Alzheimer's in 2005, became a champion of union and labor organizations, working as an AFL-CIO organizer. He credited his meetings with Ann Atwater as being the reason he was able to shed his racism. "I haven't been the same since I left that school program," he said years later. "All of this drastically changed my life, I mean, my thinking. How in the hell does people get so screwed up mentally? They don't have any evidence to some of the things that they do and some of the opinions they make. They just have them." -An Unlikely Friendship Documentary
Dig deeper into The Best of Enemies true story by watching the Ann Atwater interview and documentary below.