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[In My Lifetime] Terrie Williams Remembers the Day Mandela Came to America

Nelson Mandela addresses a crowd after arriving in New York in 1990. He is joined by his then-wife Winnie Mandela, New York Mayor David Dinkins, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, Rev. Jesse Jackson and actor Harry Belafonte.

We started in 1988 and our first two clients were Eddie Murphy and Miles Davis. One day I got a call from David Dinkins, who was then the mayor of New York. I had known him for quite some time and he asked me to coordinate [Nelson Mandela’s] visit, this was in 1990. I was beside myself, absolutely beside myself, I mean what a phenomenal honor to be up close and personal and to witness him in all his majesty.

To have the very first Black mayor of New York invite him to America wasn’t lost on him, so I think that was an extraordinary point in time for them to be able to meet, to uplift and encourage one another. It was symbolic in so many ways; here’s the man who ended apartheid.

I think the symbolism of the two of them coming together and meeting and the struggles they endured to become who they were as individuals and then to influence for David, the city and Mandela the world.


Terrie Williams founder of The Terrie Williams Agency

We knew of his struggle and we knew how he came to be and I think the thing that struck me most was people were coming together and jumping up and down in the streets that he was here. There was a parade, (Harlem’s) Riverside Church gave a phenomenal celebration. We had a brief conversation and there were moments that we had. I wouldn’t say we got to sit down and have a really lengthy conversation, but it was all about orchestrating so that it would be as tight as it needed to be because everybody was trying to get to him.

Among the key things he talked about were about equality, especially for women in South Africa. So the most powerful message was that everybody is the same. Equality for everyone, and especially the sisters. There’s a quote from Edmund Burke: “all that is required for the triumph of evil is that good men remain silent and do nothing.” It’s a quote I grew up on. Mandela knew he was going to do something in the role that God placed him, that was something that stood strongly within his spirit.

I think that his words resonate to this very day. When you meet someone of that kind of greatness and who has gone through the fire and come out on the other side and is still standing, he was just a remarkable example of what to do, how to be, kind and gracious and strong.

— As told to Madison J. Gray

Click here to read more from EBONY’s “In My Lifetime” series.


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