Freedom Rider (now U.S. Representative) John Lewis Appears on ‘Oprah’ With the Man Who Beat Him 50 Years Ago (VIDEO)
Today, John Lewis is a U.S. Representative for Georgia’s fifth district. But in 1961, Lewis was a student and participated in the Freedom Rides in the South to fight segregation.
On Wednesday’s ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ (weekdays, syndicated), he spoke about his experiences as one of the first Freedom Riders. (May 4 is the 50th anniversary of the first Freedom Rides). Lewis was beaten for his efforts; now, 50 years later, he sat next to Elwin Wilson, the man who delivered the beating.
Lewis said he was glad to make the sacrifice he did. “I was prepared to die,” he said. “I wanted to end segregation and racial discrimination.” Wilson confessed to being a member of the Ku Klux Klan and to beating up more than one person on the Freedom Rides. He remembers Lewis declining to press charges at the time when questioned by a policeman. With a tremble in his voice, he recalled what Lewis had said. “He said, ‘No,’ ” Wilson remembered. ” ‘We’re not here to cause trouble.’ He said, ‘we’re here for people who love each other.’ “
Lewis noted that in all the time since the beating, Wilson was the only one who ever apologized to him. It was an amazing moment, these two men at odds 50 years ago, now sitting side by side, talking to each other with a genuine feeling of mutual respect.
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