Friday, December 6, 2013

I'd Be Remiss...

I’d Be Remiss…

“During my lifetime…I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

~ Nelson Mandela, April 20, 1964

Another hero left us yesterday.

I feel obligated to post about the great Nelson Mandela, who died in Johannesburg yesterday at the age of 95. The Nobel Prize-winning icon who led the fight to end apartheid in South Africa was jailed for almost three decades and then went on to serve as the country’s president from 1994 to 1999 – the first black man to assume this role – and ruffle some feathers along the way but as Churchill famously said, having enemies means you stood for something.

For the young people among us who aren’t familiar with Mr. Mandela, he certainly stood for something. He was jailed from 1964 until 1990 for his anti-apartheid activism – described as “high treason and conspiracy against the state” – and became an international symbol of resistance against oppression and a scourge to all racists and many Republicans. (Ronald Reagan officially designated Mr. Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, a terrorist group in the 1980s because Mr. Mandela and the ANC had waged armed resistance against apartheid, and in 1985 then-Congressman Dick Cheney voted against a congressional resolution urging that Mr. Mandela be released from jail. No surprise there.)

Mr. Mandela publicly declared that he was an opponent, not an ally, of American power. He criticized Dubya and the Iraq war in 2004. (When Bush was promising to liberate Iraq’s people, Mr. Mandela said, “All that he wants is Iraqi oil.”) He was pals with the Soviets, was adamantly pro-labor union and praised Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat. He famously called freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right” and expressed support for African-Americans who struggle against “the injustices of racist discrimination and economic equality.”

In short, Nelson Mandela was one of the strongest, most dedicated, effective and righteous public figures the world has ever known. One biographer said of him, “Before and after his release from prison, he embraced an unabashedly progressive and provocative platform.”

Gee, I wonder why right wingers aren’t crazy about the guy.

I’m proud that my former congressman, the late Howard Wolpe, sponsored the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which demanded an end to apartheid and mandated sanctions against South Africa for its system of white-minority rule. (The law, which overcame not one but two vetoes by Reagan, helped to get Mr. Mandela released from prison.) I’m also proud that Michigan State University was the first public university to divest from South Africa, and my Great Lake State was the first state to do the same.

And I’m glad that I participated in the Nelson Mandela Freedom Tour, the 12-day, 8-city tour across the United States back in 1990 that advocated for continued sanctions against South Africa. I attended a rally at the old Tiger Stadium in Corktown on June 28 along with Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, United Auto Workers president Owen Bieber, members of the Detroit Pistons basketball team and 49,000 other supporters. I’ll never forget it.

Judging by the number of pro-Mandela memes on my Facebook news feed and the list of world leaders and celebrities who’ve paid tribute to the man in the last 24 hours, neither his death nor his significant contributions have gone unnoticed. It remains to be seen how long he’ll be remembered.

Click here to read the compelling and informative statement that Mr. Mandela read at the opening of his trial before the Supreme Court of South Africa on April 20, 1965. Click here to view Frontline’s “The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela: An Intimate Portrait of One of the 20th Century’s Greatest Leaders.” And click here to visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Sources:,,, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

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