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"The evil of bigotry gives way to the power of redemption!"

Man Asks Entire Town for Forgiveness for Racism
2.06.09: 48 Years Ago, He Attacked Future Rep. John Lewis; Now the Two Hug

Elwin Wilson and John Lewis
Nearly half a century ago, in a very different America, Elwin Wilson and John Lewis met under a veil of violence and race-inspired hate. The men had not seen each other again until Tuesday when, with "Good Morning America's" help, Wilson approached Lewis again -- this time offering an apology and a chance to relieve a burden he'd carried for more than four decades.

He was asked a question by a friend, his answer wasn't what it should have been, and he knew that.

Wilson, a young, white, Southern man, attacked Lewis, a freedom rider for Martin Luther King, in the "white" waiting room of a South Carolina bus station.

Nearly half a century ago, in a very different America, Elwin Wilson and John Lewis met under a veil of violence and race-inspired hate.

Wilson was in the group, but said he "did more than help." He said he was the main attacker.

The outburst, Wilson said, was just part of a life of hate he led for years.

"I had a black baby doll in this house, and I had a little rope, and I tied it to a limb and let it hang here," he said.

In a diner, with a look of glee on his face, he threw eggs at black men who tried to enter.

He watched as Barack Obama was sworn in as President, he didn't vote for Barack but he's prayed for him.

Wilson has been on his own freedom march in search of forgiveness.

He went back to the diner where he threw eggs. He went all around town, apologizing to anyone he may have wronged.


One of those was Representative Lewis and Mr. Wilson sought him out in Washington DC seeking his forgiveness, he found what he sought and certainly much more!

Originally posted to jimstaro on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 10:17 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A small step on a journey to healing. (8+ / 0-)

    I am 53. I do not expect that the healing will be done in my life time, but steps like this one will move us forward.

    I believed, but I'm damn glad it is now reality.

    by alasmoses on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 10:21:58 AM PST

  •  As us Oldsters know (15+ / 0-)

    The Bigotry and Racism was extreme back than, and we've seen it rising these last eight years!

    I saw it first hand, though it existed in the North it wasn't as pronounced as in the South.

    Coming out of the Naval bootcamp my first base was the Naval Air Station, Meridian Miss, the same airbase the field is named after John McCains father.

    Off the base it was very much alive, and when I arrived it was at the start of the trial for the KKK members who had killed the three civil rights workers from the North, the movie "Mississippi Burning" is about.

    I was sill there when King was shot and killed!

    "How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

    by jimstaro on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 10:22:26 AM PST

  •  Didn't vote for Obama & a one armed hug? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    How reformed is this guy?  I'm still waiting for more concrete evidence.

  •  He is just sad. Trying to get right with God, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    or something, now that he is old. It's not worth a lot of our time, but it is another teachable moment for young folks, I guess.

    Landscape, with its basis of aridity, is both our peculiar splendor and our peculiar limitation. - Wallace Stegner

    by blindyone on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 10:29:26 AM PST

    •  And another............. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      No wonder we're collapsing as a society!!

      "How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

      by jimstaro on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 10:37:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  A Teachable Moment The Reporter Blew. (0+ / 0-)

      She could have asked him what influenced him to hate black people.

      Hate is taught.

      But the haters aren't aware of that.

      Maybe this guy could have said his parents taught him to hate blacks.  His friends taught him to hate blacks.  His politicians taught him to hate blacks.  His church taught him to hate blacks.

      Question why you would be compelled to mimic your source of hate.

      Maybe this guy could have influenced one of todays haters to reform.    

      Where is the source of this hate?

      Question what you are being taught and who is teaching you.

      Question why Rick Warren would be invited to give an Inaugural Prayer.

  •  this is what... (5+ / 0-)

    the real america is about. understanding and acceptance. we can be wrong and do evil to others and still have a cathartic awakening that lets us ask for forgiveness and repent for our transgressions.
    tung sol

    tung sol was right.--Governor David A Paterson

    by tung sol on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 10:34:44 AM PST

  •  Tough crowd here (7+ / 0-)

    The guy certainly didn't have to do this publicly, or come this clean on what he'd done.  I'm sure it was gut-wrenching.

    Everything MLK taught or John Lewis has done in his life should lead us to embrace this man's gesture, whatever his motives.

    •  My guess (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NogodsnomastersMary, Norbrook

      Those who question are themselves the racist of today, but would tell you in a second they hold No Feelings Of, been around way to long and from that time to now, easy to recognize!!

      "How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

      by jimstaro on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 10:39:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Usually is, where questions arise of people (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jimstaro, NogodsnomastersMary

      formerly in opposition to us, doing something good.  There's always a lot of "yeah but this doesn't make up for it" tough talk.  

      I think just as it's easier to show road-rage from behind your smoked-glass windows in the depersonalized capsule of your vehicle ... it's a lot easier to reject human repentance on the Internet.  Whereas if this was somebody you were in the room with, you'd be a lot more likely to respond with respect to the humanity of their gesture with like humanity.

      "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

      by lgmcp on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 10:51:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I Gotta (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lgmcp, NogodsnomastersMary

        Hand it to his son as well, not easy to say what he said especially with a national news organization's camera filming it!!

        Mr. Wilson, as it said, was already asking for what he sought from his town folks and neighbors when he found out about Lewis.

        Knowing how things were and went down back then it really shows his thoughts in his eyes as he asks for and states those thoughts!

        "How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

        by jimstaro on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 11:03:27 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  His actions (5+ / 0-)

    seem genuine, his remorse sincere. If John Lewis, who endured so much directly at the hands of this man,  can forgive and embrace him, I certainly can too.

    1.20.09: The end of an error; the beginning of an era

    by Vita Brevis on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 10:41:24 AM PST

  •  This is something. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jimstaro, lgmcp, NogodsnomastersMary

    Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards

    by publicv on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 10:54:20 AM PST

  •  People can learn. (0+ / 0-)

    People can change for the better.
    When I heard about this wonderful story yesterday, I found myself shedding tears of joy, yet again. (My goodness, the Obama Era sure seems to turn on my waterworks.)
    Thank you so much for this diary.

    I could have been a soldier... I had got part of it learned; I knew more about retreating than the man that invented retreating. --Mark Twain

    by NogodsnomastersMary on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 11:46:48 AM PST

  •  It is a start. There are many children pictured (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    having picnics under the lynching trees. Many of them are still alive today. They need to come forward too. The healing has begun but there is a long way to go. I don't know whether he is doing this public apology more to save his soul or if he is sincerely sorry for what he did, but regardless, it is a start. His son seems more broken than he does.

    It's a beautiful day!

    by JoanMar on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 11:48:10 AM PST

  •  I'm a Christian (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jimstaro, NogodsnomastersMary

    I don't gainsay acts of genuine contrition. That's like telling the Holy Spirit to fuck off. I don't think coming from his background or with his past deeds this can be anything else but genuine. He could have just as easily lived out his days, never saying a word about it. What does he have to gain from this? So what if he didn't vote for Obama. How does that determine how genuine he is? And so what about the one-arm hug. I'm very uncomfortable hugging people, and I'm a woman. This is an elderly man who likely hasn't spent much of his life expressing affection like that.  

    As for people with mixed feeling or who don't want to believe he's genuine, I ask you this -- what do you have to gain by holding on to the shame, anger and resentment? You likely never heard of this man before this diary. Now he's a target for your own shame about your race (if you're white) or your own anger about your history (if you're black), whatever the case may be. Think about how irrational and reactionary that is. That man's great sin was doing something irrational and reactionary. He is trying to acknowledge how wrong that was, to set things right and move forward. We all can learn from that, even if we are uncomfortable with who's teaching us that lesson.

    Regardless, we can't move forward as a society if we keep wanting to hate each other.

    -8.50, -7.64 "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer." - Camus

    by croyal on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 11:59:17 AM PST

  •  Why Didn't The Reporter Ask Him Why He Hated (0+ / 0-)

    blacks so much.

    That would be illuminating as I suspect he was taught this hate.

    Other might think about listening to the hate passed down to them.

    The reporter is worthless.  Missed an opportunity.

    •  And You're (0+ / 0-)

      Not a very bright bulb!!!!

      "How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

      by jimstaro on Fri Feb 06, 2009 at 04:19:01 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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