LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — As news of Nelson Mandela’s death swept the world, it got many Southland residents remembering a historic trip he made here in June 1990, shortly after he was released from prison.
Huge crowds joined celebrities and leaders to greet the anti-Apartheid icon and what would be South Africa’s first black president.
Mandela had a private meeting with Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, the spiritual leader of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, and he spoke to the congregation.
“He was kind enough to let us host him, to address those who were there at the congregation, and to just sit with me and let me ask questions, because it was fascinating. It was a joy to know him and to almost want to imitate him,” Murray told CBS2/KCAL9 political reporter Dave Bryan.
Mark Whitlock, the executive director of the Cecil Murray Center of Community Engagement, said seeing the civil rights leader that day was something he’d never forget.
“I sat next to him and felt a tingling, like you were sitting next to a rock star, like you were sitting next to somebody who changed the world, and then go to South Africa and see the challenges, that changed my life forever,” Whitlock said.
L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was a member of the host committee for Mandela’s visit. He said he can still clearly picture in his mind a historic speech Mandela made to a crowd of more than 90,000 people at the Memorial Coliseum: “People of LA realized and captured the historical moment.”
Former Mayor Richard Riordan said he remembered meeting Mandela when he returned to Southern California a few years later, after Los Angeles had experienced its own racial trauma.
“We’ve seen the Rodney King riots, we’ve seen a real dissonance between the police department and the African-American community, but he made you feel that you could get along with everybody, despite having spent 27 years in jail. He was the true humble leader that he stayed all of his life,” Riordan said.
On Wednesday, the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission passed a resolution for a bronze plaque to be erected at the location to commemorate that 1990 visit, not knowing that a day later the iconic figure would leave the world behind.