A former Klu Klux Klan member, who publicly apologized for his racist past, has died.
Elwin Wilson, who was 76 years old, had confessed to hating people of color for the majority of his life. After President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Wilson said he was sorry for his racist acts, which included beating a black man who later became a U.S. congressman, the Herald reports.
"He said he had it on his heart for a long time," Wilson’s wife, Judy, told AP after his death. "He said he wished he could find the ones he mistreated and apologize to them all."
In 2009, Wilson apologized at several public venues, including the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and the Capitol Hill office of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who decades earlier he had attacked outside a South Carolina bus station, CNN reports.
Lewis accepted Wilson’s apology, saying it was an act of nonviolence.
"Hate is too heavy a burden to bear," Lewis told CNN.
On Saturday, hours before Lewis learned of Wilson’s death, the Georgia congressman spoke to a group of high school students and described Wilson’s apology.
“It was very, very moving, what I said to these young people,” said Lewis, who was a black Freedom Rider. “I cried tears.”
Wilson admitted to his racist deeds, including tossing an egg at a black man in front of a cheering crowd and hanging a black baby doll from a noose in a tree in his front yard, the Herald reports.
His past weighed on his conscious, Wilson said describing his change of heart.
"All I can say is that it has bothered me for years, all the bad stuff I've done," he told AP. "And I found out there is no way I could be saved and get to heaven and still not like blacks."
Wilson died Thursday at a South Carolina hospital after battling the flu and had a history of heart and lung problems, according to the news outlet.