REP. JOHN LEWIS AND ATTACKER RECEIVE COMMON GROUND AWARD
On Thursday evening October 29, 2009, Rep. John Lewis and Elwin Wilson, the man who attacked him at a bus depot in Rock Hill, SC will receive the Common Ground award at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. This honor, given by Search for Common Ground, is awarded to people who have made significant contributions to bridging divides between people, finding solutions to seemly intractable problems, and providing inspiration and hope to many.
Former honorees include Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari, President Jimmy Carter, former Senator George Mitchell, Muhammad Ali, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, broadcaster Charlie Rose, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Daniel Pearl Foundation.
In May 1961 Elwin Wilson was part of a mob that attacked John Lewis and other Freedom Riders for entering the waiting area of a bus station in Rock Hill, SC marked "Whites Only." Forty-eight years later, in January 2009, the men met again, this time in John Lewis's congressional office. Wilson expressed remorse for his life-long racial hatred and for having participated in beating Lewis. Congressman Lewis accepted the apology and offered his forgiveness without hesitation.
The two men hope that their reconciliation will inspire others who took part in Civil Rights-era violence to come forward, and that others will work to heal wounds of racism in the United States. John Lewis has served as U.S. Representative of Georgia's Fifth Congressional District since 1986. He was a member of the Freedom Riders and was a national leader of the Civil Rights Movement.
Elwin Hope Wilson has lived in Rock Hill, South Carolina for most of his life. He served in the U.S. Army, and worked as a welder and heavy equipment officer for many years. Wilson, who once took part in KKK activities, now speaks out against racial bigotry and intolerance.
"Reconciliation was the overriding purpose of the Civil Rights Movement," said Rep. John Lewis. "It was our goal not only to attain civil rights, equal rights, and voting rights for African Americans and others who were disenfranchised, but to usher in a new day. We wanted to help build a nation based on simple justice that respected the dignity and the worth of every individual. In order to do that we realized we had to find a way to live with each other, find a way to make peace with each other. Forgiveness and reconciliation go hand in hand with this concept.
"I was gratified when Elwin Wilson said he wanted to meet me and apologize. In all my years, no one who has ever attacked me has offered an olive branch. What he did took courage, and I respect his continued efforts to try to heal the divide caused by racial hatred and violence."
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