An Unlikely Friendship
December 6, 2005 11:41 AM   Subscribe

Claiborne Paul Ellis, union organiser, born January 8 1927; died November 3 2005. He was Studs Terkel's favorite interviewee, and a former Exalted Grand Cyclops of the KKK. In 1971, he co-chaired a 10-day discussion group on school desegregation with Ann Atwater, a local civil rights activist who had once tried to stab him with a pocket knife during a city council meeting. Over the course of those ten days, the two former antagonists formed an unlikely bond. Their friendship became the subject of a prize-winning book, and a subsequent documentary film. (The "Curriculum and Video Guide" .pdf on the film web site is also interesting. Direct link to .pdf)
posted by halcyon_daze (17 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This is fantastic. Thanks, halcyon.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:02 PM on December 6, 2005

Yea, this is a great story. I'm surprised that I haven't heard of him before.
posted by octothorpe at 12:08 PM on December 6, 2005

Exalted Grand Cyclops?
posted by unreason at 12:13 PM on December 6, 2005 [2 favorites]

NPR obit with Ann Atwater interview.

Ann is actually a very sweet lady, despite the militant descriptions.

Thanks, halcyon.
posted by 3.2.3 at 12:16 PM on December 6, 2005

What an amazing account, of which I was completely unaware. Thank you for this great post, halcyon.
posted by prostyle at 12:18 PM on December 6, 2005

Stunning story, and a well researched post to boot.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:19 PM on December 6, 2005

wtf cyclops?
posted by rxrfrx at 12:20 PM on December 6, 2005

Excellent. I heard an interview with CP Ellis and Ann Atwater years ago on NPR on a drive back from Gainesville. I was so amazed by the story that the highway imagery is stuck in my head. Oddly enough I forgot the names and subsequent google attempts got me nothing (note that I heard this maybe in 88, so it was a long gap between the hearing and the googling).
So good to have this lead and reading material for later tonight.

But really an amazing story and one had me free of misanthropy for a day or two. For someone so entrenched in the KKK to essentially renounce those ideas and behaviors showed amazing courage -- he not only acted against ideas, but against his friends, family, and community. Truly a difficult choice.

I love this quote: "It finally came to me," he said, "that I had more in common with poor black people than I did with rich white ones."
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 12:21 PM on December 6, 2005

Right you are, 3.2.3! Ann Atwater is indeed a very sweet lady-- and a committed community activist to this day, despite constant battles with a number of maladies.

The .pdf on the film web site contains a fair amount of info about her, so I encourage everyone to read through it.
posted by halcyon_daze at 12:29 PM on December 6, 2005

Great story, great post. Thanks.
posted by languagehat at 1:02 PM on December 6, 2005

This quote from the Turkel interview got me:

When the news came over the radio that Martin Luther King was assassinated, I got on the telephone and begin to call other Klansmen... We just had a real party... Really rejoicin' 'cause the son of a bitch was dead. Our troubles are over with. They say the older you get, the harder it is for you to change. That's not necessarily true. Since I changed, I've set down and listened to tapes of Martin Luther King. I listen to it and tears come to my eyes cause I know what he's sayin now. I know what's happenin'.
posted by octothorpe at 1:09 PM on December 6, 2005 [2 favorites]

Thanks, halcyon_daze. Excellent post.
posted by Rothko at 1:09 PM on December 6, 2005

Fantastic post. I've been looking for something to read and my library has The Best of Enemies available.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 1:33 PM on December 6, 2005

Here's a link to an interview with Studs Turkel about Ellis. It starts about 15:30 into the piece and lasts about 7 minutes.
posted by DonnieSticks at 2:48 PM on December 6, 2005

Wow, this is a spectacular story, thanks.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:07 PM on December 6, 2005

[from second link:] "I tell people there's a tremendous possibility in this country to stop wars, the battles, the struggles, the fights between people. People say: 'That's an impossible dream. You sound like Martin Luther King.' An ex-Klansman who sounds like Martin Luther King. I don't think it's an impossible dream."

Absolutely, stunningly beautiful. Thanks for the lift, halcyon_daze.
posted by koeselitz at 6:30 PM on December 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

I have never heard of either of these people, but this is one of the most inspiring things I've read in a long time - perhaps one of the best set of links I've ever read at Metafilter. Thank you so much!
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:46 PM on December 6, 2005

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