2008 January 21

John Lewis Returns to Scene of 1961 Freedom Ride Beating; Reconciles with Attacker


Civil rights leader John Lewis, a respected member of the House of Representatives, had been a participant in the 1961 Freedom Rides, which began on May 4, 1961. On May 9, 1961, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, he was savagely beaten by Elwin Wilson, a Ku Klux Klan member and racist opponent of integration. On this day, Lewis returned to the scene of the beating and reconciled with Wilson, who had beaten him 47 years earlier. Wilson died in 2013.

Lewis was beaten again on May 20th, when the Freedom Ride reached Montgomery, Alabama. Fifty=two years later, on March 2, 12013, then-Montgomery police chief Kevin Murphy apologized to Lewis for the failure of the police to protect him in 1961, and gave him his police badge as a symbol of reconciliation.

Lewis had a long and courageous and distinguished career as a civil rights activist and public servant. On August 28, 1963 he spoke at the historic civil rights March on Washington, but march leaders forced him to delete sections of his speech that criticized the Kennedy administration for failing to fully support civil rights.

Lewis was brutally beaten in the first attempted Selma voting rights march on March 7, 1965 (“Bloody Sunday”). The beatings outraged public opinion across the U.S. and around the world, and led directly to the enactment of the historic Voting Rights Law, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law on August 6, 1965.

Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986, and eventually became one of the most senior and respected member of the House of Representatives as a representative from Georgia.

Read Lewis’s autobiography: John Lewis, Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement (1998)

Watch a news story on the reconciliation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y77fUFUfk9I

Watch Lewis and the Freedom Rides: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNMXbNp67rA

Read about the Freedom Ride: Ray Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006)

Find a Day

Abortion Rights ACLU african-americans Alice Paul anti-communism Anti-Communist Hysteria Birth Control Brown v. Board of Education Censorship CIA Civil Rights Civil Rights Act of 1964 Cold War Espionage Act FBI First Amendment Fourteenth Amendment freedom of speech Free Speech Gay Rights Hate Speech homosexuality Hoover, J. Edgar HUAC Japanese American Internment King, Dr. Martin Luther Ku Klux Klan Labor Unions Lesbian and Gay Rights Loyalty Oaths McCarthy, Sen. Joe New York Times Obscenity Police Misconduct Same-Sex Marriage Separation of Church and State Sex Discrimination Smith Act Spying Spying on Americans Vietnam War Voting Rights Voting Rights Act of 1965 War on Terror Watergate White House Women's Rights Women's Suffrage World War I World War II Relocation Camps


Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear your comments, criticisms and suggestions!