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Clairborne Paul (CP) Ellis was born on January 8, 1927, and was raised in Durham, North Carolina, as the son of a mill worker. He was deeply influenced by his father, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. As he grew older, CP became disillusioned with the notion of the American dream. He worked for several years at a gas station before he got married and had four children. The financial strain of taking care of his wife and children (one of whom was blind and non-verbal) led him to the need to blame somebody. He was invited by men he met while working at the gas station to join a local Klan group. He quickly became a very active member, climbing the ranks of leadership until his final pronouncement as Exalted Cyclops. Ellis attributed the elation of this period to the feelings of self-worth and the importance of being a respected member of this group.
Ellis began a youth group for children to indoctrinate them with the teachings of the Klan. He also felt that it would not be inappropriate for the Klan to become more politically active, as blacks were also openly demonstrating. He began to receive calls from city councilmen to show up at political events in order to combat the black presence. C. P. described a moment of clarity when a city councilman, whom he had spoken with on the phone the night before, crossed the street in order not to pass him on the sidewalk. At this point, he felt that the council neither respected the view of the Klan nor the blacks and that their interest had been only for themselves.
In 1971, the Durham City Schools faced considerable turmoil because of court-ordered desegregation. The state AFL–CIO received $78,000 in grant money by the Department of HEW to address the school system's racial policies. A community organizer, Bill Riddick, motivated by fears of violence among the students,
organized a series of community meetings called a charrette, where the entire community came together to try to solve this problem. The first step was to create a steering committee that was representative of the community. Riddick invited Ann Atwater, an African American civil rights activist, and the segregationist Ellis to co-chair the meetings. Find out what happens next in The Best of Enemies!