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Posted: 1:30 p.m. Thursday, June 27, 2013

AJC ARCHIVES: NELSON MANDELA VISIT 1990

Atlanta opens heart to Mandela: 50,000 cheer ANC leader at stadium

NEW HERO: "Our parents experienced Martin Luther King. Our generation is experiencing Nelson Mandela, " one Atlantan said.

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1990 photo
David Longstreath/AP
Nelson Mandela, deputy president of the African National Congress, and his wife Winnie place a wreath at the tomb of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta.
1990 photo
Adil Bradlow/AP
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie a day after his release from over 27 years in prison.

By Ron Taylor, Joseph Albright

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This story was originally published June 28, 1990

Atlantans endured oppressive heat, police barricades, shoving matches and long schedule delays Wednesday to get a glimpse of Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid leader who has enjoyed a hero's welcome in each U.S. city he has visited.

At Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, about 50,400 people cheered as Mr. Mandela linked his people's struggle against racial discrimination to the civil rights movement in the United States.

"We are . . . conscious that here in the southern part of the country, you have experienced the degradation of racial segregation, " he declared. "We continue to be inspired by the knowledge that in the face of your own difficulties, you are in the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement in this country."

Mr. Mandela's arrival late Wednesday in Miami, where anger has built over his defense of Cuban President Fidel Castro, provided stark contrast to his Atlanta visit. The Metro-Dade police SWAT team was deployed on the tarmac with M-16 rifles at the ready as Mr. Mandela descended from the plane.

In Atlanta, he made frequent references to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the native who made the city headquarters for the American civil rights movement.

Drawing on Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, delivered in 1963, Mr. Mandela declared, "Let freedom ring. Let us all acclaim now, 'Let freedom ring in South Africa. Let freedom ring wherever the people's rights are trampled upon.' "

But throughout the frenzied visit, in which some appearances scheduled to last an hour or more became mere whistlestops, Mr. Mandela refused to embrace Dr. King's philosophy of non-violent protest.

And one of Dr. King's followers defended Mr. Mandela's declaration that violence might be necessary.

"We reject the constant nagging that you have experienced about denouncing violence, " said the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Dr. King founded.

"We who espouse non-violence nevertheless . . . respect the right of oppressed people to seek their liberation, " the Rev. Lowery said in a speech at Big Bethel AME Church. "Who are we to raise the question of violence, we who paid the contras to shoot and slay innocent people in Central America?"

Another civil rights veteran, the Rev. Hosea Williams, and four others were arrested outside the stadium during a protest of the $5 ticket price charged to hear Mr. Mandela. "Let us see Mandela or lock us up, " demanded the Rev. Williams. Police locked them up.

Four white supremacists, who showed up outside the stadium with an African National Congress flag they said they planned to burn, scrapped the idea after police threatened to arrest them. Mr. Mandela is deputy president of the ANC.

"It's OK to burn the American flag, but not a Communist flag, " said one of the protesters, David W. Holland, former head of the Southern White Knights, a Ku Klux Klan faction.

Rush-hour traffic was bumper to bumper on the downtown Connector because of crowds pouring into the stadium for the rally. Traffic in the southbound lanes of I-75/85 was backed up to 14th Street. Police blocked off North Avenue between the Connector and Luckie Street.

Mr. Mandela arrived more than an hour late at the stadium after deciding to visit Morehouse College, where he was honored by major black universities and colleges. At one point, the ANC organizers had decided Mr. Mandela would not make the stop.

Explaining the change of mind, ANC spokesman Zwelakhe Sisulu said that combining the Morehouse ceremony with a visit to Big Bethel had been considered, "but we thought about it and decided the occasion would be more befitting of the event if it took place at the college."

Mr. Mandela's admirers didn't seem to mind the twists and turns in his schedule. Those who got to see him generally gushed with praise.

Gwendolyn Boyd played hooky from her part-time job so she could attend the rally. "It's like a spiritual enlightening, " she said. "Our parents experienced Martin Luther King. Our generation is experiencing Nelson Mandela."

As if to show their solidarity with the ANC and the continent of Africa, Kinte cloth, an African fabric, was a popular accessory for dozens of people attending the stadium rally. The crowd was a sea of green and yellow, the ANC's national colors.

Volunteers from the Shrine of the Black Madonna in Atlanta passed out pizza-sized boxes to collect donations for the ANC. Collections filled a 50-gallon trash can. The money will be taken to Citizens Trust Bank, where it will be counted and given to ANC representatives.

Although Coca-Cola was sold at the rally, Deborah Marshall and her family passed up the cool refreshment.

"We refuse to buy Coke products, " in protest of Coke's presence in South Africa, "so we came with our own snacks, " Ms. Marshall said.

About 1,500 admirers hoping to get a close-up view of Mr. Mandela at Big Bethel earlier rushed the side doors of the church, where his visit was delayed two hours. An elderly woman in the crowd was pushed to the ground, and two other women feined their collapses to get into the church.

"I can't even describe the feeling, " said Wendy Truitt, who was at Big Bethel. ''It's tears and joy and excitement at the same time."

Mr. Mandela began his visit by going to the King Center and laying a wreath at the tomb of Dr. King. He also met privately with Coretta Scott King, the civil rights leader's widow.

After the Georgia Tech rally, the entourage left for Miami. As the Trump jet being used by Mr. Mandela lifted off from Hartsfield International Airport at 10:33 p.m., pilot Ray Dothard came on the intercom and offered some advice: "If I were Mr. Mandela, I would go straight home and go to bed."

Staff writers Alma E. Hill, Thonnia Lee, Mark Sherman, Steve Harvey and Sam Walker contributed to this article.

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