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In 1971, black residents in Durham, North Carolina, were fighting for school integration. White families in the city pushed back, hoping to keep schools segregated. Locally, the government organized a charrette — a 10-day meeting where both sides were forced to come together and find a solution. Based on a true story, Bill Riddick was the moderator who traveled to Durham and appointed a bold civil rights leader, Ann Atwater, and a local KKK leader, C.P. Ellis, to be co-chairs of the board.
Actress Taraji P. Henson portrays Atwater in the upcoming film, "Best of Enemies," which chronicles the relationship.
"I was compelled to do this film because once the presidential election happened, the tone of this country changed," Henson told NBC Nightly News. "I never heard of such a thing. When I read the script, I thought it was fiction. It was just too, it was too perfect. It's like, that's how love works, right? And in this world, we see so much hate we don't even pick out those stories of love."
The Morning Rundown
Initially, it was a disaster.
Filled with hate, Ellis called Atwater names and refused to speak to her. In the documentary, "An Unlikely Friendship," Atwater explains that she hated him because he was white and because he continuously called black people the N-word. C.P. Ellis said that they found common ground in their love for their children and wanting them to have the best education possible.
Somehow, through conversations with one another, Ellis changed his mind. At the end of the meeting he ripped up his KKK card, renounced his Klan membership and eventually became lifelong friends with Atwater. In 2005, she spoke at his funeral.
“Ann Atwater taught me to fight for what you believe in,” Henson said. “And change is worth fighting for. Because you’re fighting for generations that [are] coming behind you. You’re fighting to make this world a better place.”
Atwater's granddaughter, Ann-Nakia Green, grew up traveling to NAACP meetings with Ann. She explains how her grandmother was strong and never showed fear — even when dealing the KKK.
"She reached out and crossed lines of hatred," said Green. "I think the love that my grandmother had and the love that CP had, and how they were able to combine that, that's what helped desegregate the school systems here in Durham."
Henson hopes that after watching the movie, people will feel compelled to listen to those they disagree with.
"I hope that people see the importance of having a discussion," Henson said. "Even with someone that you don't even agree with."