Whenever I’ve written about racism in Floyd County and Southwestern Virginia, some attempt to justify bigotry by saying "well, you have to remember that a lot of older folks around here grew up in a time when racism was a part of society and that’s what they learned to believe."

I grew up in racist times and it taught me to hate racism. I never understood the hate and fear that racism spawns and I was taught that when you get older you are expected to get wiser and learn that old mistakes like racism are wrong. As a recovering alcoholic, I know from experience that you can change your ways and seek redemption for sins of the past.

Down in Rock Hill, SC, 72-year-old Elwin Hope Wilson (above) grew up a racist, beat up blacks, supported the Ku Klux Klan and hated just about everything that wasn’t part of his white supremacist ways.

Now Wilson is facing his mortality and recognizes that his racist past was wrong. Associated Press Writer Helen O’Neill wrote a stirring, emotional story about Wilson, a sad old racist struggling to redeem himself and come to grips with his past:

Elwin Hope Wilson leans back in his recliner at his home in Rock Hill, SC, a sad, sickly man haunted by time.

Antique clocks, at least a hundred of them, fill his neat ranch home on Tillman Street. Grandfather clocks, mantel clocks, cuckoos and Westministers, all ticking, chiming and clanging in an hourly cacophony that measures the passing days.

Why clocks? his wife Judy has often asked during their 49 years together.

He shrugs and offers no answer.

Wilson doesn’t have answers for much of how he has lived his life — not for all the black people he beat up, not for all the venom he spewed, not for all the time wasted in hate.

Now 72 and ailing, his body swollen by diabetes, his eyes degenerating, Wilson is spending as many hours pondering his past as he is his mortality.

The former Ku Klux Klan supporter says he wants to atone for the cross burnings on Hollis Lake Road. He wants to apologize for hanging a black doll in a noose at the end of his drive, for flinging cantaloupes at black men walking down Main Street, for hurling a jack handle at the black kid jiggling the soda machine in his father’s service station, for brutally beating a 21-year-old seminary student at the bus station in 1961.

In the final chapter of his life, Wilson is seeking forgiveness. The burly clock collector wants to be saved before he hears his last chime.

Read the rest here. It’s worth your time. (Photo from The Associated Press. Used with permission)