On Monday morning, Durham learned the sad news that legendary civil rights activist Ann Atwater had died at the age of eighty.
Her lasting legacy includes her longtime work with the poverty-fighting Operation Breakthrough.
Born in Hallsboro, N.C. in 1935, Atwater came to Durham as a married teenager. She witnessed and experienced, poverty and discrimination in Durham. She didn’t like the way she saw welfare office workers treated recipients. So she confronted them. She was active in the Durham business boycott of 1968. And things changed.
Back in the 1960s and seventies, Atwater was not above, say, thumping some Durham City Councilman on the head to let him know she demanded respect. It worked.
Durham spiritual writer Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove reminisces about his friend at School for Conversion:
When I came to Durham thirteen years ago, Ann was one of the first local community builders I met. She shared the story of how she was invited in 1971 to co-lead the process to integrate Durham’s public schools. Her proposed partner was C.P. Ellis, a local Ku Klux Klan leader. She recalled a time when she had pulled out a pocket knife to kill Ellis, only to be talked down by a pastor in the crowd. But she connected with his pain when she heard Ellis describe the poor education his children were getting. For the rest of his life he was C.P. to Ann. They were, in the title of the book and play about their lives, The Best of Enemies, sustaining a fusion friendship for the common good despite all odds for over a quarter century.
Funeral services are being held at noon on Monday, June 27 at Mt. Calvary United Church of Christ, located at 1715 Athens Avenue in Durham. The burial ceremony is at Woodlawn Memorial Park at 2107 Liberty Street.