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.
Photo: David Longstreath/AP
Photo: David Longstreath/AP

Mandela visit rich in symbols

This story was originally published June 26, 1990

Nelson Mandela arrives in Atlanta today for a visit designed to link the South African nationalist to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

During his stay, the 71-year-old African National Congress leader will visit the King Center, renew acquaintances with Coretta Scott King and lay a wreath at Dr. King's grave.

He also will meet civil rights leaders at Big Bethel AME Church and address an evening rally at Georgia Tech. ANC officials canceled Mr. Mandela's appearance at Morehouse College, where he was to have been given honorary degrees, but college officials said the ceremony would be held anyway.

"Mandela at King's tomb provides a symbolic link between these two great leaders that history unfortunately has prevented from meeting, " said Eleanor Holmes Norton, who helped lead the U.S. effort to step up pressure on the South African government in the mid-1980s.

Lindiwe Mabuza, chief ANC representative in the United States, has described including Atlanta in Mr. Mandela's 10-day U.S. tour as "natural in view of Atlanta's central role in the civil rights movement."

Mrs. King and the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which Dr. King founded, have met Mr. Mandela in Africa. Dr. King and his father, the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., corresponded with ANC leaders in the 1950s and 1960s.

Rich in symbolic tributes, the day also is expected to give Mr. Mandela a respite from the criticism he has faced in Washington for his refusal to renounce violence in South Africa and his continued support of Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, Cuban President Fidel Castro and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. He also is likely to stir controversy when he visits Miami, where Cuban-Americans have lashed out at his warm words for Mr. Castro.

In Atlanta, Jewish leaders Tuesday acknowledged "fundamental differences" with Mr. Mandela over his statements last week. However, "respect and admiration for Mr. Mandela in his leadership of the fight against apartheid is not diminished, " they said in a statement issued by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and the Atlanta Jewish Federation.

The only demonstration expected is one led by activist Hosea Williams to protest the $5 charge for tickets at the rally. Mr. Williams wants to march from the Imperial Hotel, which was occupied last week by the homeless, to the Georgia Tech rally.

Although no disruptions are expected, federal, state and local authorities responsible for security aren't taking any chances.

With more than 300 city and Fulton County police officers, Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents and U.S. State Department agents assigned to protect Mr. Mandela and his entourage, the whirlwind Atlanta tour is being treated like a presidential visit.

"That, and more, " said Atlanta Maj. W.W. Holley, who commands the city's special operations unit. "We're going to take every measure to ensure that the route is safe. We'll be doing bomb sweeps, and we're going to remove anything that looks suspicious."

As he has elsewhere, Mr. Mandela will ride in an armored limousine provided by the State Department, Major Holley said, adding that all leaves for Atlanta police have been canceled.

 In Fulton County, Assistant Police Chief Lewis Graham said 40 of his force's 200 officers will work security at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, where Mr. Mandela will attend an evening rally.

South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, Peabo Bryson, the Barefoot Ballet, African Dance Connection, the Antioch Baptist Church Mass Choir, the Jamaican reggae group Third World, the Rev. Harold E. Moore and 10- year-old Tiombe Lockhart are to perform at the rally.

The open-air stadium and mass of people is of particular concern, security officials said. It is the only public appearance for Mr. Mandela in Atlanta.

Fire and rescue units will be stationed at each of the four sites he will visit, said Fire Chief Thomas Perrin.

Concerns about Mr. Mandela's health prompted Chief Perrin to assign a doctor and paramedic to the Mandela motorcade, which will include a Grady Memorial Hos pital ambulance. Mr. Mandela also has his own doctor traveling with him.

Major Holley said Mr. Mandela's motorcade route will be well-secured and lined with nearly 1,000 barricades, but Atlanta officials have refused to disclose the exact route, citing security concerns.

Along the way, the ANC leader is likely to see some of the 130 colorful banners the city commissioned to mark the visit. The banners are flying on Auburn Avenue and Peachtree Street and near the Morehouse campus, said Holly Mull, Atlanta's manager of special events.

The banners have proved so attractive, in fact, that more than a dozen have been stolen, neatly clipped from flagpoles.

Atlanta Public Works Commissioner Chester J. Funnye said his workers are not on any special footing for the visit.

Extra "white wing" crews - foot patrols equipped with basket and broom - have been assigned to streets near the sites Mr. Mandela will visit, and workers have placed large flower pots at the sites and outside City Hall, where a Tuesday evening reception honored the ANC.

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