Hate crimes apology

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Much is being made of the repenting ways of a former supporter of the Ku Klux Klan who is issuing apologies for hate deeds against blacks that he committed over the years.

Now 72, in ailing health and apparently haunted by his past, Elwin Hope Wilson of Rock Hill, S.C., is baring his chest.

In recent months he has apologized to people he harmed, including a Freedom Rider seminary student he brutally beat in a bus station when the student attempted to test whether desegregation laws were being enforced in bathrooms and the dining area of the station.

The student, John Lewis of Atlanta, is now a congressman in Washington, D.C. In his autobiography he vividly described his steps toward the bathroom and the instant Wilson smashed the side of his head and the front of his face, and how, when he fell to the floor, Wilson began kicking him in his sides.

Other deeds include throwing an egg at a black man that was captured in a newspaper photo in 1961, and embarrassing his own children by yelling at black people in restaurants and using the “N” word in front of their friends.

Wilson went to Lewis’ office to apologize, and he has gone inside black churches to offer apologies for his attacks, both verbal and physical, against black people. He has sought out blacks his own age whom he taunted in his younger years, and offered apologies.

Some of those Wilson hurt wonder “why now” is he apologizing. Some refused to meet with him and others question his motives, his sincerity.

Others have accepted his apologies, and people from both races have called him a hero for having the courage to seek forgiveness.

As for the former hate-monger, he explains his actions by saying they had to do with the crowd he ran with.

“It was sport,” he said in a recent Associated Press interview.

Over the years, he said he realized he could never be saved and go to heaven and not accept blacks.

Wilson is not a particularly articulate man, and he does not explain his actions convincingly when asked why he spent a lifetime hating blacks.

Still, sick with diabetes, he is going out and walking the walk.

Some crimes are so heinous that it strains everyone when we are asked to forgive the person who owns up to the crime. When someone like Wilson, who has lived a life filled with documented hatred for humanity, tries to unburden his soul, some will accept the apologies and others will be unable to do so.

Those who cannot forgive have valid reasons, and we respect them, but the best among us will be the forgivers.