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This coming Friday (April 5), the film The Best Of Enemies, starring award-winning actress Taraji P. Henson as civil rights activist Ann Atwater, makes its debut. Based on author Osha Gray Davidson’s book, the movie focuses on how Atwater and Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis, played by Sam Rockwell, forged an unlikely partnership in North Carolina amid tensions over public school desegregation.

Atwater was a poor, divorced mother of two who found renewed purpose after she joined the civil rights movement. At the urging of activist Howard Fuller, she joined Operation Breakthrough. Operation Breakthrough was established to aid and assist poor North Carolinians like Atwater, who later became a supervisor in the program.

In 1971, Atwater’s success in Operation Breakthrough led to the Durham city council placing her in a charette, a group formed  to reach consensus on racial issues. Despite segregation being deemed illegal in schools, North Carolina refused to completely comply. On the opposite side of Atwater in the charette was Ellis, who grew up poor with bigoted views of Black people perpetuated by stereotypes and pure ignorance. Ellis and Atwater feuded for a decade prior to joining the charette, increasing the potential for explosive encounters.

But over time, Atwater and Ellis realized they were both victims of the South’s propensity to pit poor people of varying races against one another. As co-chairs of the charette, they presented the school board with a list of suggestions that could better aid all students. Atwater became good friends with Ellis, who eventually vacated his post with the KKK.

Atwater continued her community work for many years. She passed in 2016 at the age of 80. Ellis died in 2005.

The Best of Enemies stars Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Babou Ceesay, and Anne Heche among others. Robin Bissell directs the film.

PHOTO: STK Films

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