U.S. Representative John LewisJohn Lewis currently serves as the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district. Although he has had a distinguished career in government service, there is another story that John Lewis has to tell, particularly in reference to love and forgiveness. As you may know John Lewis was one of the Big Six leaders in the American Civil Rights Movement. Beginning from an early age he practiced non-violence, attending non-violent workshops and becoming active in the Nashville sit-in movement which helped to desegregate lunch counters. He continued his activism through his involvement with the Freedom Riders, often getting beaten for simply sitting in a seat reserved for white patrons.
On one particular occasion, in May 1961, Lewis was beaten due to attempting to enter a waiting area of a bus station in South Carolina marked "Whites Only." A man named Elwin Wilson took part in the attack, and forty years later they met again, at Elwin's request. It would have been completely understandable for Lewis to react negatively to the reunion. Instead, Wilson was recorded in the exchange saying, "I'm so sorry about what happened back then," to which Lewis responded, "It's OK. I forgive you," followed by a hugThis is a remarkable display of forgiveness. Lewis stated: "I never thought this would happen... It says something about the power of love, of grace, the power of the people being able to say, 'I'm sorry,' and move on. And I deeply appreciate it. It's very meaningful for me."
This interaction between Lewis and his counterpart Elwin Wilson is a prime example of how love and forgiveness can play out at the governance level and help heal wounds from the past. We should take this display of acceptance and genuine forgiveness as a sign for hope in humanity's ability to move beyond the harms of the past. For Lewis this notion of acceptance is nothing new as with more than 40 arrests, and experiencing numerous attacks and injuries throughout his fight for civil rights, he has always remained an avid practitioner of nonviolence. As he worked to organize voter registration drives, as well as co-led the peaceful march that turned violent due to Alabama police, later known as "Bloody Sunday", he never strayed from his personal mission. Even throughout his political career, having held positions with ACTION, the Atlanta City Council and then when he was first elected to congress in 1986, he has continued to fight for human rights and has promoted peace and non-violence as a way forward for the United States.