The spotlight shined on Wilson back in February 2009, when he appeared on CNN and publicly apologized to Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) for beating him up some 50 years ago along with his racist cohorts at a South Carolina bus stop. Lewis had been a civil rights crusader during the turbulent sixties and was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders who rode interstate buses into the south to challenge segregation laws. Wilson, who was staunch card-carrying KKK member at the time, admitted to assisting his fellow brothers in bloodying up Lewis and his civil rights colleagues.
During the aired segment, Lewis told Wilson that he forgave him and was moved by the heartfelt apology. Thus far, Wilson has been the only KKK member to come forward to apologize for the beating.
Wilson received hateful and menacing phone calls at the time of his apology. He was labeled a traitor for going against the KKK’s long-held credo of racial hatred and was forced to report the threats to police.
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The Gaston County, S. C., native told CNN’s Don Lemon at the time, “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.”
Lewis was hopeful that Wilson’s bold move would inspire others to step forward and offer their apologies for their racist crimes of the past.
See Elwin Apologize to Lewis below:
Wilson’s cause of death is unknown. He is survived by his wife, son, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
According to Wilson’s wife, Judy, who spoke to the Associated Press after her husband’s death, ”He said he had it on his heart for a long time. He said he wished he could find the ones he mistreated and apologize to them all.”