Elwin Wilson died on Thursday at the age of 76; he was famous for apologizing for his participation and support of the Ku Klux Klan. He apologized soon after President Obama was inaugurated in 2009 and gained national attention for his reformation.
- (Photo: Twitter/RepJohnLewis)
"All I can say is that it has bothered me for years, all the bad stuff I've done," Wilson told the Associated Press in 2009. "And I found out there is no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks."
"My daddy always told me that a fool never changes his mind, and a smart man changes his mind. And that's what I've done, and I'm not ashamed of it. I feel like I'm apologizing to the world right now," Wilson told CNN's Don Lemon in 2009.
Wilson was one of the men to physically attack Georgia Representative John Lewis during that 1961 civil rights movement. Lewis was beaten by a group of men when he walked into a whites-only waiting room. Lewis, a Freedom Rider, received an apology from the Montgomery, Ala. police chief and governor last month.
Wilson, however, was "the very, very first to come and apologize to me," Lewis told South Carolina's Rock Creek Herald. "For a private citizen to come along and say, 'I'm the one that attacked you; I'm the one who beat you,' it was very meaningful … His story and the way he arrived at his position must be understood, must be told."
The two men received the Common Ground Award for Reconciliation and were honored on Worldwide Forgiveness Day in 2009 after Lewis began telling his story to the public. Two years later, they appeared on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" to tell their story, which made for a spike in viewership.
Wilson admitted to burning crosses, beating Lewis, "flinging cantaloupes at black men" and "hanging a black doll in a noose outside his home," The Washington Post reported. He wanted to clear his conscience of everything and clear the way for others to do the same.
Wilson's wife, Judy, said that he died grateful for the opportunity to tell his story and make amends. He passed away after suffering from the flu and years of heart problems.
Watch Wilson's apology here: