Friday, January 13, 2012

White man who beat Freedom Rider John Lewis apologizes

(My apologies for the lateness of getting some of these stories posted.)

A white man who wanted to make amends for the racially-motivated beating of Freedom Rider John Lewis on May 9, 1961, made the apology on the Oprah show in December.

From the Rock Hill Herald:

The show has invited Rock Hill's Elwin Wilson to Chicago to talk about his apology for beating the living daylights out of a skinny, short black civil rights protester in the Rock Hill Greyhound bus station almost 50 years ago.
That black guy, just 21 on May 9, 1961, is a man who became a civil rights icon and, eventually, a congressman, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the Democrat from Georgia.
Yet in 1961, Lewis was just another black man among countless numbers across the South, beaten up by angry whites hell-bent on keeping blacks in their place.
Lewis, by telephone Tuesday, also confirmed that he will be taping the show Thursday in Chicago. Other Freedom Riders from 1961 are also scheduled to be there, Lewis said.
A spokesperson for the show said late Tuesday the episode is scheduled to air May 4.
"And I will be proud, to have my friend, Mr. Elwin Wilson, there by my side with me," Lewis said Tuesday. "He remains, to my knowledge, the only person who beat me, or any of us on the Freedom Rides, to apologize.
"He is a special man."
Wilson, right there in his recliner a couple of hours later Tuesday, put it this way:
"No finer honor than to be on TV with my friend John Lewis. We sure have become close after what I did to him all those years ago, when I hated black people for no good reason at all.
"He is all that is good about America. He forgave me for all that wrong I did. And I sure did wrong to him."
Yet for 48 years, until January 2009, nobody ever admitted to being the guy who beat Lewis into a bloody pulp.
After President Barack Obama was inaugurated as the nation's first black president, former Ku Klux Klansman Wilson called me here at The Herald.
Wilson told me that he wanted to apologize for a lifetime of hating blacks. Wilson then apologized to local civil rights protesters and admitted he was the one man who beat up Lewis that day in 1961.

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