Former Ku Klux Klan member Elwin Wilson, who spent much of his later life trying to make amends for his earlier racist beliefs, has died at the age of 76.
Elwin Wilson made national headlines back in 2009 when he apologized to U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) for a race-related violent attack back in 1961.
At the time, Lewis said of Elwin Wilson’s apology after several decades:
“For you to come here today, it’s amazing to me. It’s unreal. It’s unbelievable. Maybe, just maybe, others will come forward because there needs to be this healing… Good to see you, my friend.”
Of his change of perspective, Wilson told the AP back then that he carried immense guilt over his actions toward Lewis and others, and explained:
“All I can say is that it has bothered me for years, all the bad stuff I’ve done. And I found out there is no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks.”
Lewis spoke after Elwin Wilson’s death Saturday, noting that the former KKK member’s story is one that should be remembered, and added:
“His story is a powerful story; his story must not be forgotten. His story and the way he arrived at his position must be understood, must be told.”
Lewis also said:
“He was the first private citizen… He was the very, very first to come and apologize to me… 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.”
When the pair reconciled, Lewis and Wilson received the Common Ground Award for Reconciliation in Washington, D.C., and appeared on Oprah to discuss their unusual friendship.