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."
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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."
Janelle Richards is a Producer for "Nightly News with Lester Holt" in New York.
Rehema Ellis joined NBC News in 1994 as a general assignment correspondent. In 2010 she was named education correspondent and was an integral part of NBC’s first annual Education Nation summit that focused on the strengths and weaknesses of America’s education system.
Her reports appear on "Nightly News with Brian Williams," "TODAY," and MSNBC. Ellis was part of the NBC Emmy award-winning coverage of the plane crash in the Hudson River called, Miracle on the Hudson. She also won an Emmy for her reporting on the 2008 Presidential Election of Barack Obama and his historic inauguration.
Ellis has been part of other headliner stories including the attacks on the World Trade Center. She was the first person to identify the attack on the air as “Nine-Eleven." She’s reported on Hurricane Katrina, the death of Michael of Jackson and the Haiti earthquake.
As a correspondent for NBC, Ellis traveled to Zaire to report on the mass killings that left an estimated one million people dead in Rwanda. A few years later she spent a month in Greece covering the summer Olympics.
Ellis began her broadcast career at KDKA Radio and TV in Pittsburgh. Later, she worked in Boston at WHDH-TV as a reporter and weekend anchor.
She has distinguished herself as a lead correspondent and received numerous awards including local and national Emmys, Edward R. Murrow Awards, Associated Press awards and awards from the National Association of Black Journalists. She's also a recipient of an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Journalism.
Born in North Carolina, and raised in Boston, she graduated from Simmons College in Boston and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
Ellis currently lives in New York City with her young son.