NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Empire State Building was lit up in blue, red, yellow, and green, the colors of the South African flag, on Friday night in a tribute to Nelson Mandela that was planned to last through Saturday night.
From Manhattan to Hollywood, Paris to Beijing, leaders and citizens, athletes and artists remembered Mandela on Friday, though many struggled to find words big enough to describe the man who changed the face of South Africa and inspired a continent and a world.
Flags were lowered to half-staff in many countries, a portrait of Mandela adorned the outside of France’s Foreign Ministry, mourners left flowers at a statue in London, children in South Africa ran through the streets carrying his image and the New York Stock Exchange held a minute of silence before the opening bell.
In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie ordered all flags lowered to half-staff. Flags at City Hall were lowered to half-staff as well.
At a vigil outside of the South African consulate a crowd gathered to sing native songs and memorialize Mandela.
“We suffered a lot of indignity as people of color and he was the end of the rainbow,” South African, Audrey Swartz told CBS 2’s Don Champion.
Among those outside of the consulate was Dr. James Forbes who held on to memories of meeting Mandela.
Forbes met Mandela twice in 1990 and 2005 at the Riverside Church in Manhattan.
“He does carry an aura of almost divine human presence. I mean you feel like you’re next to truth incarnated,” he said.
“He devoted his life to building a more just, equal and compassionate world, and we are all better for it,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Friday morning, Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced the creation of the Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice, a new high school that will be located in the Boys and Girls High School campus that Mandela visited in 1990.
“Renaming the campus he visited shortly after his release from prison will forever serve as a reminder that our mandate as public servants is to provide our children with the weapons they need for a successful future and help us build a city of inclusion and opportunity that Madiba could be proud of,” Bloomberg said.
“Nelson Mandela visited this building not long after he was released from prison, and we want to ensure that the special bond between the students and this legendary figure will live forever,” Walcott added.
The school is set to open in September of next year.
Outside the South African consulate in Murray Hill, visitors and South African natives stopped by Friday to honor Mandela. Flowers and candles were placed outside the consulate by visitors.
As WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane reported, one remembrance on the sidewalk reads that Nelson Mandela was South African, but claims residency in hearts everywhere.
“He’s done so much for us so may his soul rest in peace,” a consulate employee said.
“He’s a warrior. To be incarcerated for so long and then still come out as strong as you are,” said a woman.
Pretoria resident Garth Williams said he was hoping he’d be home to mark Mandela’s passing, but said being in New York gives the moment meaning.
“Kind of a city of celebration and that’s overcome adversities, reminds me of him as well. So in a way, it’s very nice to be here,” he told Murnane.
Mandela spent 27 years in prison after he was convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the apartheid government. He walked to freedom in 1990 an international hero and went on to become South Africa’s first black president.
Christine Masemola, who grew up in South Africa, said she remembers the day Mandela was released from prison.
“We just all ran out of our houses, ran into the streets and rejoiced and sang and walked in masses for days,” Masemola said.
As WCBS 880’s Levon Putney reported, the state of New Jersey actually played a large role in implementing economic sanctions against South Africa back in the 1980s which eventually helped to end apartheid.
Back in 1985, then Gov. Tom Kean signed a measure to divest $2 billion in state pension investments from companies doing business with South Africa.
“No other state had done and no other state did it for some time. The business community was very much against it. I got a call from the Reagan administration telling me please don’t do it,” Kean told Putney. “It was a tough move and the right one and I didn’t regret it then and I certainly don’t regret it now.”
Kean said hearing South Africa’s president say “apartheid now and forever” spurred him to act in any way he could to try to end the racist policy.
Five years later, after the segregation policies were dying out, Kean said he heard from South African Bishop Desmond Tutu.
“He said that made a lot of the difference. It was the first time the leadership of South Africa felt there could be economic consequences,” said Kean.
In Harlem, artist Franco Gaskin, 85, stood in front of a mural featuring Mandela he had painted on a storefront gate almost 20 years ago. He remembered Mandela’s 1990 visit.
“It was dynamic, everyone was so electrified to see him in Harlem,” Gaskin said. “I idolized him so much. He leaves a legacy that all of us should follow.”
Mandela’s passing was also marked on the marquee of the famed Apollo Theater, which said, “He changed our world” along with the years of his birth and death.
In 1990, Mandela was greeted by tens of thousands of cheering people as he traveled in a motorcade through black neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and city officials honored him with a ticker tape parade.
Rep. Charlie Rangel says he was deeply moved by the experience.
“More than anything else, he possessed that moral quality that you just don’t find,” Rangel told WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell. “God spent a lot of time making Nelson Mandela.”
At Harlem’s Riverside Church, Rev. Linda Tarry-Chard remembers Mandela’s fight against injustice, drawing support from religious leaders, hospital workers and even Yankees fans who paid to hear him speak.
New Yorkers donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to help turn the African National Congress into a political entity. Mandela returned to the Riverside Church in 2005 to say thank you.
“It was clear that physically he was beginning to fail however there was such dignity and there was such spirituality,” Tarry-Chard said of his visit.
He made other visits, including after the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2005, he was also presented the key to the city by Bloomberg.
For Hunter College student, Sara Clemente, Mandela’s legacy had a special meaning.
“I was sad. I called my mom when I got out of class and we cried a little bit,” she told CBS 2’s John Slattery.
Clemente met with Mandela in Johannesburg 5 years ago.
“Meeting him I think was the mos timportant moment of my life and I was so proud of myself and so happy,” she said.
Clemente, now 18, was in the 8th grade when she won a human rights scholarship to meet Mandela in South Africa.
On Thursday, The New Yorker magazine released its cover for next week, a picture of Mandela holding up his right arm in a fist.
“Perhaps once in a generation a man, a movement, and a moment came together on a mission for freedom that is so powerful, so courageous, so just that all the guns and dogs, hatred and violence, deprivation and force that can be mustered cannot turn them back,” said David Dinkins, the first black mayor of New York City.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio said in a statement he remembered listening to Mandela in Yankee Stadium during his 1990 visit.
“We came to believe in his fight for justice and democracy as if it were our own,” de Blasio said.
In his statement, Rev. Al Sharpton said, “Everything humanly possible that could be done to someone other than killing them was done to him, yet he maintained his dignity and his determination. It is almost unthinkable what he endured and yet forgave. He taught us that you have to keep your eye on the prize, and that nothing you suffer is as important as the goals that you are fighting for.”
Harlem resident Troy Gibson echoed that thought. Mandela “showed us strength and perseverance, he’s taught a lot of people a lot of things.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said flags on state buildings would be lowered to half-staff in Mandela’s honor as well.
“Nelson Mandela refused to accept injustice, fought relentlessly for what was right, and showed that a dedicated person of courage actually can change the course of history,” Cuomo’s statement said.
South Africa’s president says Mandela will be buried on Sunday, Dec. 15.
President Jacob Zuma also said Friday that a memorial service in a Johannesburg stadium will be held for the anti-apartheid leader on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
Zuma said that Mandela’s body will lie in state at government buildings in Pretoria from Wednesday, Dec. 11, until the burial. He said this coming Sunday, Dec. 8, will be a national day of prayer and reflection.
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