The Supreme Court decision on the 1965 Voting Rights Act was beyond disappointing, but I'm sure there will be other blog posts on the subject from greater minds than mine. What consumes my thoughts and emotions is the great Nelson Mandela. He lies a South African hospital, continuing to fight for his life at the age of 94. For me, Nelson Mandela has always been personal beyond his being an extraordinary human being.
More than twenty years ago, I had the privilege of sitting down and interviewing him. I'll never forget that day.
Mandela, newly freed from a South African prison where he'd spend better than two and a half decades, had come to New York City. The late labor leader Jim Bell and then Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch had arranged for me to talk to him one on one. It was a bright, sunny June morning in1990, and the interview time was set for a very early hour of the day. I walked to the UN Plaza hotel where he was staying, across 44th St., going over in my head what I was going to ask him.
I was led to the man's room, past tight security, and was greeted warmly by a man I'd never met. Before I even got to ask him a question, he asked me if I thought Mike Tyson would beat Buster Douglas if they fought a second time (they never did). He told me he used to box, and had a keen interest in the sweet science.That actual substance of the conversation was like a dream sequence in a Hollywood movie. Nelson Mandela told me flatly that apartheid was doomed, that it was only a matter of time before majority rule came to South Africa.
I knew he was right, but for those of us who had marched and protested through the years in the USA, it still seemed far away. I do remember the quiet confidence and sense of humor that he exuded that morning. I remember thinking to myself that I might be just a little bitter if I'd been imprisoned and subject to the conditions he endured for so long. He told me of being forced to wear shoes three sizes too small while in prison. That image of cruel and unusual punishment has stayed with me ever since. Yet if there was bitterness in this man, he hid it very well.
After about 20 minutes, the interview was done. I floated out of the hotel and rushed to air the interview. One thing was for sure. I had been in the presence of greatness that day, and it would be something never to be forgotten.
And so, as he reaches the end of a long, triumphant journey, I pray for Nelson Mandela with the rest of the world.