Nelson Mandela Live! A Super Welcome for a Super Hero

Ebony, September 1990 | Go to article overview

Nelson Mandela Live! A Super Welcome for a Super Hero


NELSON MANDELA LIVE!

A SUPER WELCOME FOR A SUPER HERO

NOT in recent memory has a visiting dignitary captured the hearts and minds of the American public as did South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela during his whirlwind tour of the United States.

"Mandelamania" is what the astonished national media dubbed the hero worship that enveloped the serenely commanding African National Congress leader on every stop of his 11-day, eight-city American odyssey. By any name, the rousing cross-country reception accorded Mandela and his wife and co-struggler, Winnie, was unmatched in its sweep and emotion.

From the moment they touched down at New York's Kennedy International Airport, the Mandelas were bathed in a warm wave of public adulation. Only the welcome that greeted Mandela following his release in February after 27 years of captivity could have been more buoyant.

Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers lined Broadway for a "ticker-tape" parade that electrified the city. Reams of shredded computer paper--the modern equivalent of ticker tape--showered down on the motorcade that escorted Mandela--safely encased in a specially built, bulletproof vehicle nicknamed the "Mandelamobile" by New York police.

The national fervor swelled to even greater proportions each time he spoke. Beginning with a pointed exchange with ABC-TV's Ted Koppel in a nationally televised "town meeting" at the City College of New York, Mandela, who was one month shy of his 72nd birthday at the time of his visit, showed American audiences that he is more than a commanding presence--he is also a gifted and inspiring orator.

Nearly 80,000 crowded into Yankee Stadium and more than 300,000 gathered on the Esplanade in Boston to hear Mandela thank Americans for their support in the anti-apartheid movement. "We knew that our cause would triumph," he told throngs everywhere. "We found great comfort in the knowledge that you were with us. Not for a single day did you forget us, not for a single hour."

In Washington, where his appearances included a nationally televised address before a joint session of Congress, Mandela pressed for the continuation of economic sanctions against South Africa until the dismantling of the country's oppressive apartheid system is complete. And he linked the struggle of South Africa's Black majority to that of American freedom fighters, including John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr.

The symbolic bond between American heroes and the South African struggle was hammered home time and again as Mandela was saluted in celebrations and as he, in turn, paid tribute to African-American giants such as Joe Louis, George Washington Carver and Paul Robeson. In Atlanta, he paid homage to the men and women who gave their lives for the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and laid a wreath of chrysanthemums on the tomb of Martin Luther King Jr. In a historic convocation at Morehouse College, 38 historically Black colleges and universities gave him a joint honorary degree.

His presence even influenced fashion, as Blacks across the country donned an array of African garb in a nationwide show of respect and unity.

In Detroit, he got down with a throng of 70,000, revealing that the music of Motown inspired him during his 27-year imprisonment. …

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