Statue for two heroes

Bill Riddick was saddened that he hadn't done more for Ann Atwater.

Although Riddick is the one who brought Atwater and C.P. Ellis together so they could change Durham for the better, he knew that they - and thousands of nameless foot soldiers - were the ones who saved Durham public schools and possibly the city of Durham. They certainly ensured that tens of thousands of Durham children could have access to a better education.

The sadness in his voice was palpable as he talked recently about seeing Atwater, the firebrand who'll be portrayed by the acclaimed and glamorous actress Taraji P. Henson, for the first time after about 20 years.

It was in the 1990s and it was obvious, he said, that the community activist was not faring well physically or financially. Among his regrets, he said, was that he hadn't taken her with him out on the road and around the country to talk about the remarkable events that had led to Durham schools being desegregated.

People, he said, would have paid money to hear the remarkable story of how C.P. Ellis, a ku klux klansman, and Atwater, a civil rights and community activist, cast aside their differences and worked to ensure that Durham wouldn't go up in flames, its schools wouldn't end up shuttered.

When I later interviewed Atwater a couple of times, it was obvious that she was not thriving. As generous as this community is, there's no doubt people would have rallied to help her - just as a bunch of Duke University divinity school students were doing when I wrote about her in 2007. They were moving furniture into her home and helping to make it handicapped accessible.

I noted the irony of this indefatigable woman who used to walk the streets of Durham registering people to vote now being unable to walk from room to room in her own house.