Former KKK Supporter Elwin Wilson Who Apologized for Racist Past Dies
By Martha Waggoner
Elwin Wilson, the former Ku Klux Klan supporter who publicly apologized for years of violent racism, including the beating of a black Freedom Rider who went on to become a Georgia congressman, has died. He was 76.
Wilson died at a hospital in South Carolina after a bout with the flu and years of heart and lung problems, said his wife, Judy Wilson.
She told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he was relieved he lived long enough to try to make amends for years of racial hatred. He detailed his deeds at length when he called The Herald of Rock Hill to apologize shortly after President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
“He said he had it on his heart for a long time,” Judy Wilson said. “He said he wished he could find the ones he mistreated and apologize to them all.”
Among his actions were cross burnings; hanging a black doll in a noose at the end of his driveway; flinging cantaloupes at black men walking down Main Street; hurling a jack handle at a black boy jiggling the soda machine in his father’s service station; and the brutal beating of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., at a Rock Hill bus station in 1961.
“His story is a powerful story; his story must not be forgotten,” Lewis told The Herald in a telephone interview. “His story and the way he arrived at his position must be understood, must be told.”
Wilson also apologized in several other public venues, including during a meeting with Lewis at the congressman’s Capitol Hill office.
In 2009, Lewis and Wilson accepted the Common Ground Award for Reconciliation at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C.