A public figure whose character I much admire today is the Reverend John Lewis, better known as Representative John Lewis, of Georgia. This story comes out of his background as an early member of CORE. Lewis was one of the Freedom Riders with CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) (CORE) that rode into Rock Hills, South Carolina and attempted to enter an all white waiting room at the bus station on May 9, 1961.
Ku Klux Klan member, Elwin Wilson, was waiting. When he saw John Lewis enter that restricted area (white‘s-only), he attacked, pummeling the young civil rights worker. Lewis responded with nonviolence.
It was neither the first nor last time Lewis faced abuse as a leader in the civil rights movement. During sit-ins, the freedom rides, and at the front of the marchers who were violently abused with batons on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on “Bloody Sunday,” he was beaten numerous times.
According to Lewis, now the Reverend John Lewis and a United States Representative from Georgia, none of the men who beat and abused him ever apologized—until Elwin Wilson. Forty-eight years later, Elwin Wilson contacted the former Freedom Rider and apologized for beating Lewis that many years ago.
Since that time, Wilson has apologized to members of the African-American community in Rock Hills for his numerous acts of racial hatred. He had the conviction to call and confess “I’m sorry.” Representative Lewis readily responded to the former KKK member with mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and now refers to him as a friend.
Such apologies are far too rare. Lewis readily admits that Elwin Wilson is the very first person out of the hundreds who attacked and abused him during the civil rights struggle to say publicly and personally, “I’m sorry.” It is a story that bears repeating. Although parts of it are regrettable, the power of forgiveness and healing found in their encounter after nearly half a century is evidence that the teachings of Jesus are still at work in our broken and fallen world.
If we are to come to terms with the regrettable events in our national history and international affairs, people like Elwin Wilson cannot be the last to courageously turn about face and say “I’m sorry.” Long ago, an observer took note of the happy results of the disciples’ journey with Jesus. and asked Jesus, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25 NASV)?
With that, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan
I pray we will be encouraged and challenged both by Wilson’s repentance and Lewis’ forgiveness in all areas of our lives, and particularly regarding areas of injustice. Many people around the world--South Africa--Ruanda--and elsewhere are learning to deal with destructive relationships in this way.
It was the only way when Jesus first taught it and it remains the only way for a world hell-bent for destruction to once more hear Jesus say “Go and do likewise.” Wayne
This is Walking With Warner