Two men come together in the spirit of forgiveness and understanding
In May 1961, John Lewis was a 21-year-old seminary student and member of the Freedom Riders. That was the month that Lewis was beaten for attempting to enter the waiting area of a bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina marked “Whites Only.” Elwin Wilson was a part of the mob that attacked Representative Lewis.
Forty-eight years later, in January 2009, the two men met again in Lewis’s congressional office. Elwin Wilson apologized to Rep. Lewis and expressed remorse for his long held hatred. Rep. 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 work to heal the wounds of racism in the United States.
John Lewis has been the U.S. Representative of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District since 1986. He grew up on his family’s farm in Alabama and attended segregated public schools. Rep. Lewis was a nationally recognized leader of the Civil Rights Movement and has remained at the vanguard of progressive social movements in the United States. Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks and serious injuries, John Lewis has remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence.
Elwin Hope Wilson has lived in Rock Hill, South Carolina for most of his life. He served in the U.S. Air Force, and worked as a welder and heavy equipment operator for many years. Wilson, who took part in KKK activities, now speaks out about racial bigotry and intolerance.
But some people just drive by to read the sign outside. It says something different every once in a while, depending on what bar owner Patrick Lanzo has on his mind. Politics are frequent topics, and former President Bill Clinton and congresswoman Cynthia McKinney have been targeted in the past.
The current sign, which has been outside the Georgia Peach Museum and Restaurant for about six months, takes a critical stand against President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan.
But it’s not just a simple message. It contains an “n” word many see as a racial slur. Find that offensive? Well just keep on driving, says Lanzo, who has run the bar for 22 years. (Note: Just for clarity the sign reads, “Obamas plan for health-care: N****r rig it“)
Lanzo contends the word is only labeled “racist” when it’s uttered by a white person. Similarly, he says white people referring to themselves as “crackers” aren’t labeled racists.
Racist or not, it’s a word Lanzo uses often. Many of the statements on his signs have included the word.
Alan Colmes on his radio show Liberaland, gave Lanzo a chance to explain why he chose to use the n-word on his sign.
Listen here, if you have the stomach for it, Lazlo really felt free enough on radio to let it all hang out, so to speak. Lazlo is the owner of the Georgia Peach Museum and Restaurant — which declares that it is “the original Klan bar” on its website.