How a White Supremacist Became a Civil Rights Activist
The story of a KKK leader’s transformation shows us that we need not live forever with the kind of violence we saw in Charleston this month.
How a White Supremacist Became a Civil Rights Activist
By Araz Hachadourian / yesmagazine.org

The contact hypothesis, a popular theory in the field of psychology, proposes that people become more tolerant toward each other when they have experience working toward a common goal. Claiborne Paul Ellis, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, is a prime example of how the theory works.

After 10 days of working with Atwater, Ellis overcame his hatred.

Born in 1927 in Durham County, North Carolina, Ellis was raised in a poor white family where racism was not only accepted but encouraged. His father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and Ellis inherited many of his worldviews. As an adult, Ellis worked multiple jobs at once to support his wife and four children. Just as he had learned to do in childhood, he blamed black people—and specifically the civil rights movement—for his family’s rough economic situation.

Ellis joined the Ku Klux Klan as an adult and eventually became the Exalted Cyclops, or elected president, of Durham’s KKK chapter.

Ellis wasn’t alone in his racist views against black people. In fact, because of his status as a the president of Durham County’s KKK chapter, many people saw him as a leader in the community. That’s why, in 1971, Ellis was asked to help decide how to spend a $78,000 government grant to aid in school desegregation.

He was elected co-chair of the committee along with black civil rights activist Ann Atwater. After 10 days of working with Atwater, Ellis overcame his hatred and prejudice, denounced his KKK membership, and eventually went on to become a community organizer for the civil rights movement in Durham County.

In this video, Roman Krznaric, author of the book Empathy: Why It Matters and How to Get It, explains what Ellis’ transformation tells us about the impact empathy and contact can have in overcoming prejudice.

 

3.5 ·
1
What's Next
Trending Today
Have You Heard of The Great Forgetting? It Happened 10,000 Years Ago & Completely Affects Your Life
Daniel Quinn · 9,328 views today · (Excerpted from the book, The Story of B) With every audience and every individual, I have to begin by making them see that the cultural self-awareness we inherit from our...
Van Jones: Only a 'Love Army' Will Conquer Trump
Tim Dickinson · 7,943 views today · Though it's important to fight Trump's policies, "it's at the values level that we need to do a reset," says Jones
The Problem with Hating Our Enemies
Charles Eisenstein · 6,865 views today · He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee. —Nietzsche
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 6,602 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 5,986 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 5,824 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
How to Expose Trump's Dastardly Bait-And-Switch
Robert Borosage · 5,401 views today · Trump is not an economic populist, he’s just playing one on TV.
10 Stunning Images from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award
Natural History Museum · 5,329 views today · These incredible images are a selection from of the 25 shortlisted by The Natural History Museum for the People's Choice Award from this year's Wildlife Photographer of the...
David Graeber: We Need a Revolution in the Way We Think about "Work"
4 min · 2,632 views today · David Graeber on the Value of Work. Does the world really need neuroadvertisers, PR researchers and branding consultants? Renowned academic and coiner of the ‘we are the 99%’...
Why You Should Stop Apologizing for Doing All That You Can
Kelly Hayes · 2,340 views today · I’ve noticed lately that a lot of allies and accomplices I talk to about NoDAPL and other struggles will name what they are trying to contribute to the cause, and then promptly...
A New History for Humanity - the Human Era
8 min · 2,065 views today · It is time to reframe how we think about our past. We need a new year 0 for humanity. But which one should we choose and why?
Trump: The Illusion of Change
Helena Norberg-Hodge · 1,947 views today · “Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.” — Wendell Berry
Seven Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century
Tommy Lehe · 1,693 views today · We live in a world that moves faster than we do. Trying to keep up can be an overwhelming task that at times feels hopeless, like we are falling further and further behind—but...
15 Easy Things You Can Do to Help When You Feel Like Shit
Maritsa Patrinos · 1,395 views today · You don’t have to tackle it all at once.
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 1,358 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Black on Black Crime Isn't a Myth
Donyae Coles · 1,353 views today · Let’s talk about Black on Black crime. Maybe you’ve heard about it on the news, specifically likely in regards to Black people murdered by other Black people. Perhaps you’ve...
Asylum-Seeker Faces a Dangerous Deportation Back to Afghanistan
3 min · 1,270 views today · After an EU deal with Afghanistan, more than 80,000 rejected Afghan asylum-seekers are facing deportation back to that country. Alim says being sent back to Afghanistan could...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,218 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
It's The Damn Police
Walter Fields · 1,152 views today · From an early age Blacks are socialized to live defensively and to absorb the mental body blows that come from the day-to-day indignities that are hoisted upon us by the very...
There Is No One Right Way to Be an Activist
Tim Hjersted · 761 views today · There is no one right way to be an activist. There is no one right way to change the world. There is no one right philosophy of leftist politics. There is no one right reaction...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
How a White Supremacist Became a Civil Rights Activist