Former Ku Klux Klan supporter Elwin Wilson has died at the age of 76 after years of heart and lung problems, as well as a deadly bout with the flu. Wilson, who admitted to beating U.S. Rep. John Lewis when the Georgia congressman was a Freedom Rider, garnered national attention for publicly apologizing for his years of violent racism shortly after President Obama's inauguration in 2009.
His wife, Judy Wilson, said during an interview Sunday that her husband was relieved he had lived long enough to at least try and make amends for his racist past. "He said he had it on his heart for a long time," Judy Wilson said. "He said he wished he could find the ones he mistreated and apologize to them all."
In addition to the beating of Lewis, Wilson was involved with cross burnings, hanging a black doll on a noose at the end of his driveway and flinging cantaloupes at black men walking on the street.
Lewis believes Wilson story must be remembered, according to The Daily News. "His story is a powerful story; his story must not be forgotten," Lewis said in an interview. "His story and the way he arrived at his position must be understood, must be told."
During his April 2009 interview, Wilson did his best to explain his remorse.
"All I can say is that it has bothered me for years, all the bad stuff I've done," he said. "And I found out there is no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks."
Lewis and Wilson accepted the Common Ground Award for Reconciliation at the Canadian embassy in Washington, D.C. in 2009. They also shared their unique story with millions of television viewers during an appearance on Oprah Winfrey’s television show. The men were honored with various awards on Worldwide Forgiveness Day.