05 February 2009

Forgiveness takes a lifetime...

I was moved when I read this in the New Yorker... especially the part when he reportedly asked President Obama to sign a photo, and the President accomodated his request with, "because of you John, Barack Obama." And then this happened... hearts and souls can mend and heal.

47 years later, apology accepted

U.S. Rep. John Lewis forgives Elwin Wilson for 1961 beating in a Rock Hill bus station.

By Andrew Dys

(Rock Hill) Herald

ROCK HILL Almost 48 years have passed since a mob of white men beat up two civil rights demonstrators at Rock Hill's Greyhound bus station. Called “Freedom Riders,” one white man and one black man protesting segregated transportation tried to go into a waiting room that on May 9, 1961, was for “whites only.”

When asked Monday night if any of the people who beat him in 1961 in Rock Hill – or attacked the Freedom Ride bus days later in Alabama – ever apologized before, U.S. Rep John Lewis, D-Ga. said, “Never. Until now.”

One of the Rock Hill mob has now apologized. And Lewis said Monday that man is forgiven.

In a telephone interview Monday night from his office in Washington, Lewis said he read Monday about the apology of Elwin Wilson for past acts of hate published Saturday in the Observer and The (Rock Hill) Herald.

“I accept that apology, and would love to have the opportunity some day to talk to that man if he wants to,” Lewis said. “I have no ill feelings. No malice. This shows the distance we have come. It shows grace on his part. It shows courage.”

Last year, Lewis received an apology from the current mayor of Rock Hill. But Wilson is the first to admit a role in the Rock Hill beatings.

Wilson, now 72, told black civil rights protesters Friday he apologized for heckling and taunting them in Rock Hill in January 1961. Wilson also told the local protesters, known as the “Friendship Nine” and the “City Girls,” that he was one of that mob that beat up Lewis a few months later. Wilson said he was sorry.

All those Rock Hill people forgave Wilson – and now Lewis, has, too.

In 1961, Lewis was a 21-year-old seminary student. Both he and Al Bigelow, the white protester, were thumped with clouts to the head.

“The two of us got off the bus,” Lewis said. “We tried to go into the white waiting room, and a group of young men attacked us. They left us lying in blood.” Lewis and Bigelow declined to press charges.

“We said no, that was not why we were doing it,” Lewis said Monday.

Lewis said Monday he is “deeply touched,” by Wilson's apology for that awful day 48 years ago.

“This apology now is the essence of what the (civil rights) movement was all about – the ability of people to change and grow,” Lewis said Monday.

Wilson said last week he hoped blacks could forgive all the hatred of his life, including the Lewis beating.

“This is one of the best things I have ever done,” Wilson said of his decision to publicly apologize. “I am sorry. I'm just now trying to do what's right.”

1 comment:

Chris Garff said...

Thanks for the stories. It's amazing the changes our country has gone through in the last 50 years. Good things have happened and more will come.