Nelson Mandela Day: The Great NYC Visit



The Archives: Nelson Mandela in New York in 1990


Nelson Mandela International Day, also known as Mandela Day, is an annual day in honor of Mandela, celebrated July 18, Mandela’s birthday. The day was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009, with the first UN Mandela Day held in July 2010.


This year also marks the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s historic visit to New York City where he was hosted by David Dinkins the City’s first African American mayor.


Many of us still remember his great interview with Ted Koppel and how Madiba, newly-freed from jail even put Koppel on the spot on June 21, 1990 when he kept trying to make him renounce Yassir Arafat and the PLO and his association with Libya’s Muammar al-Quathafi.


Here Mayor Dinkins briefly recalls the visit: 

BSN: As a Mayor you were very close to late Tata Madiba. What is your best experience with Tata Nelson Mandela?

Dinkins: When Madiba was released from prison in 1990, I was the mayor of New York and the first place that he came outside of South Africa was here to New York, where he took part in a parade.  He stayed with my wife and me in Gracie mansion, the residence of the mayor of New York.  It was great time and what I noticed more than anything else was the total absence of bitterness, whether he was playing with our daughter, who was an infant at that time, or being interviewed by Ted Koppel, who challenged him and said “What about the communists?” Madiba said, “They were the only ones that helped us. Next question.” 


He was a remarkable man. I feel privileged that he was my friend.


BSN: Today there is great disparity in wealth between Blacks and Whites and a lack of unity in the Black community as a collective economic group of people, not only in South Africa but also all over Africa. What will it take to reverse the trend and to become an economic power, and what can we learn from Black America?

Dinkins: It will take some leadership. It didn’t happen in South Africa all by itself. It was people like Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu and others and was not easily done; lots of good people lost their lives in the process.  But think in contrast what it would have been if a civil war had started. As far as we are concerned here in this country, those civil right movements – I was born in 1927 so I lived through all of this stuff – I know that things wouldn’t have been where they are right now if not for people like John Lewis, Andy Young and others who gave a lot of themselves. So it takes that kind of leadership of men and women.  Who knows what would have happened if Rosa Parks had moved to the back of the bus? Or if Martin Luther King had said that he was too busy when they asked him to lead the Montgomery bus boycott; who knows?


BSN: What does it take to become the first Black mayor of a city like New York?

Dinkins: A lot of help. It takes understanding, that, but nobody gets anywhere alone. Everybody stands on somebody’s shoulders. I would have not become the 166th mayor of this great city if it hadn’t been for lots of people who helped along the way.


BSN: Last question. What about President Barack Obama and his legacy?

Dinkins: Obama’s legacy? It’s too early to talk about it.  He is a young person who has yet some time in his term to go. I think he has achieved a lot by becoming the first Black president. That is an accomplishment.


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