For U.S. Blacks, Mandela Tour Brings Hero and Hope With AM-Mandela, Bjt
Jun. 30, 1990
Undated (AP) _ In Harlem, Nelson Mandela unleashed a river of cash.
And Mandela wasn't even there. The crowd of 100,000, most of it black, was waiting for the South African's arrival, listening to a warm-up speaker describe the needs of Mandela's African National Congress. ''I don't want this man to leave here without a piece of you going with him,'' he said.
Suddenly, hundreds of bills - $1, $5, $10 - were passed hand-to-hand overhead, coursing through the crowd to the speakers' platform.
''I would like to stand here and cry for a thousand years,'' Malcolm X's widow, Betty Shabazz, told the crowd.
It was a striking moment on 125th Street, but not an isolated one. It was like that all along Mandela's eight-city, 11-day tour of the United States, which ends Sunday. Black America has given Mandela joyful tears and dollar bills, and he has given them hope and pride and exultation.
At receptions and rallies, from lamppost perches in Harlem and corridors in the U.S. Capitol, they spoke of an almost mystical aura. ''A power from above,'' said a 75-year-old New Yorker, Ormond Duncan.
At the same time, the 71-year-old Mandela was a kind of cheerleader for black America, a badly needed one, many said. ''Morale is enormously lifted,'' said Georgetown University law professor Eleanor Holmes Norton after greeting Mandela at Washington's National Airport.
Black businessmen at a Wall Street power breakfast and schoolkids in Atlanta shared a wish that the stately, steadfast South African would bring a better understanding of blacks - and with it, basic respect still withheld by some.
''Other people are going to look at black people, especially black business owners, differently,'' said Bill Howell, who runs a petroleum products company in Brooklyn.
Here, said so many, was a hero you could see and touch, even cry over.
''I just let it out,'' said 23-year-old Bernard Johnson, who wept at the sight of Mandela at a school rally in Boston's largely black Roxbury section, which has considered seceding from the city and renaming itself for the anti- apartheid leader.
A Massachusetts legislator, Byron Rushing, sought to explain the powerful feelings: ''Some people consciously, and I think almost everybody unconsciously, is thinking ... this could have been in America, that Malcolm could have lived or that Martin could have lived.''
People wanted to reciprocate ''the gift'' of Mandela's visit, said Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who met privately with Mandela in Atlanta.
''For him to actually come, it's like a dream that you had harbored in your bosom,'' she said, shortly after Mandela arrived in the United States.
''I would hope that most people of goodwill would see it as a triumph of good over evil.'' But she added, ''Not an ultimate one, because there's so many struggles left.''
In the crowds that cheered Mandela at every stop, people talked of personal struggles and many said that's why they'd come. They took time off work; many traveled hours by bus. Ophelia Abney of Charlotte, N.C., even rescheduled her husband's heart surgery so that she could attend an Atlanta rally.
Resting against the iron fence at the White House, where Mandela was meeting with President Bush, the Rev. Robert Craghead, 58, put the occasion in a personal perspective.
''I grew up in a segregated situation - the back of the bus, restricted places where blacks could fraternize,'' he said.
As a young minister in rural Virginia 30 years ago, Craghead worked to desegregate public schools, to register black voters. Once, he said, he had to dissuade young black men from going home to get guns when Klansmen harassed participants in a courthouse registration drive.
In the 1960s, he marched wearing a sign that said simply, ''I am a man'' - and now, waiting at the White House gate, his sign bore Mandela's picture and the legend, ''Freedom Fighter.''
''I've seen tremendous change in my lifetime,'' Craghead said. ''But I've also seen a regression in many areas.''
Perhaps, he said, Mandela's visit will re-energize the civil rights movement in this country. ''It can,'' he said, ''I don't know if it will.''
Yes, it will, insisted David Jordan, a Mississippi Delta activist buoyed by meeting Mandela. ''Those of us who've been scratching the surface, trying to make things better, it does give us inspiration.''
Jordan, president of the Greenwood, Miss., city council, was a guest at a congressional Black Caucus breakfast with Mandela, invited by Rep. Mike Espy.
The first black elected since Reconstruction to represent Mississippi in Congress, Espy knows Washington's famous and powerful. Meeting Mandela, however, was on another level - ''to listen to him, to shake his hand, to get his autograph.''
After years of effort against ''state-sponsored apartheid in Mississippi ... to a great extent the barriers that we have to overcome now are less racial and more economic,'' Espy said, calling Mandela an inspiration, ''a galvanizing figure.''
In Mandela's reverberating calls to ''keep the pressure on'' South Africa's government, many black Americans heard encouragement for efforts closer to home.
Supporters of statehood for the District of Columbia circulated petitions at Mandela rallies there, comparing their lack of representation with South African blacks'. ''I don't see a lot of difference,'' said Krys Bailey.
Roslyn Bacon, who climbed the base of a street lamp to cheer Mandela in Harlem, said his visit should stimulate blacks toward action on local issues. For example, ''If you say 'keep the pressure on' that means keep the pressure on the boycotters,'' she said, referring to a protest over a confrontation between a Korean store owner and a Haitian customer in Brooklyn.
''And if you don't make the connection,'' said Ms. Bacon, a New York City schoolteacher, ''then Mr. Mandela's trip here doesn't mean anything.''
For others working with kids in poor, minority neighborhoods, his appearance among them alone may make a difference.
In Roxbury, Bernard Johnson said some gang members helped with the school rally.
''Oh, yeah, they were inside,'' and heard Mandela urge them to stay in school, to become leaders, said Johnson, who works with a community group called Free My People.
''It will deter some of them. Some of 'em it won't. Some of 'em don't see the hope.''
Roaming the mobbed outfield of Yankee Stadium taking pictures two days earlier, Ricardo Wright, 30, said he'd use the photos to convey the excitement and the message of the Mandela rally to the kids in his Varsity Sports Academy in the Bronx.
The message? ''You can fight for something,'' he said. ''You can believe in something. It can come true.''
No ethnic group speaks with a single voice about any issue or individual, but criticism of Mandela and ANC policies was rare among U.S. blacks.
The ANC says it aims to create a non-racial democracy and to distribute the nation's wealth more equally. Mandela, the ANC's deputy president who spent 27 years in South African prison for plotting to overthrow the white government, has said he favors a mixed economy.
The ANC has been criticized by some other South African groups for letting whites play too large a part. Others have called the group Marxist and have faulted Mandela for praising such leaders as Muammar Gadhafi of Libya, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Espy, a Democrat, said Mandela wants Americans to understand that ''our enemies, the enemies of the United States, or so they've been portrayed by some members of the administration, are not the enemies of the ANC - and that's something that we have to understand.''
He noted reports that a CIA tip led to Mandela's arrest. ''We've sort of been on the wrong side on a lot of these struggles ... and I'm glad to see now some moderation in our stance and some reflection of a legitimate struggle.''
Said Mrs. King, ''I think that the ANC today - and as I've seen them over the last few years - has enunciated a policy that they would like to negotiate. They are talking about peaceful negotiations and a peaceful settlement.''
As for Mandela, ''For tactical reasons, I would assume, he continues to talk about 'the armed struggle,' but then he goes on to explain what he's talking about. And everything he's talking about is being achieved through peaceful means,'' she said.
Mandela represents not ''mindless violence,'' but ''the ability to defend oneself,'' said Vicki Rawls of Atlanta, standing in the crowd across the street from King's tomb.
''Martin Luther King used weapons,'' she said. ''They weren't artillery. They used their bodies as weapons, their minds. When you're chased by dogs, bitten and beaten, you're using your body as a weapon.''
Standing in the same crowd, under the same fierce sun, Richard Smith raised a placard topped with a large peace symbol.
''We have a double, sometimes multiple standard, when it comes to violence,'' Smith said. ''There are people who'll tell you to be peaceful no matter what. But while they're telling you that they're ... denying your rights, denying you access.''
Will Mandela's aura and message endure here like King's?
''I bet it's going to anchor in with people here, a bit like the (1963) march on Washington,'' said Henry Hampton, who created the PBS television series on the civil rights movement, ''Eyes on the Prize.''
The U.S. crusade encouraged South Africans, and Mandela's visit to this country represents ''a closing of the circle,'' he said.
When Mandela and King's widow met, Irene Morrison sensed that the circle was closing in other ways, that the future and past of the civil rights movement were coming together.
She had escorted a group of high school students from Newark, N.J., to Atlanta on a college tour under a program called Upward Bound.
''I think Dr. King is here,'' Ms. Morrison said. ''A part of him is here in all the people.''