Dr. Alveda King, niece of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., remembers former South African President Nelson Mandela as a "noble and great man who has been such a great gift to the world — a dignitary, a warrior, a man of character and integrity."
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Speaking in an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV, King recalled meeting Mandela in 1990 shortly after his release from more than 27 years in prison, where he gained global prominence as the world's most famous political prisoner.
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"I just was so impressed to meet the man who had withstood oppression and stood up for the liberation of a country," explained King, a Newsmax contributor, who met Mandela at The King Center in Atlanta along with other members of her family, including the late Coretta Scott King, widow of her iconic uncle.
Alveda King later gained a deeper understanding of the South African struggle on a visit to that country.
"When I visited South Africa I saw the inequities and the differences among the people, and what it took for that quiet and yet strong warrior to stand and represent a people," she said. "Even as an African-American woman here in America, I was very familiar with some of those same circumstances and conditions."
Like Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela became a transformational figure in his country's civil-rights struggle — in his case, fighting against South Africa's racist system of apartheid. Inhabitants of the country were classified as native, white, "coloured," and Asian — depriving blacks of citizenship.
King describes both Mandela and her uncle as peaceful men, though Mandela co-founded a militant group in 1961 — Umkhonto we Sizwe — that led a bombing campaign against government targets.
"These were men of noble character, and I would say that one thing Mr. Mandela had, and my uncle — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. [had] — was more of a peaceful spirit throughout much of the years that they were viewed to influence history," she explained, noting that Malcolm X underwent a similar change in spirit near the end of his life.
"Nelson Mandela, to me, has always represented strength, nobility, character, and courage," she said. "And so he stood knowing that he was a man."
Such words took on particular significance during the civil rights struggle — both in America and in South Africa.
"Sometimes during the protests here, African-American men were carrying signs — and they would hold those signs up and say, 'I am a man' — and I believe that's the message that Nelson Mandela would love us to remember."
During Mandela's visit to The King Center more than two decades ago, he commented that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence was a good one "where conditions permit."
Alveda King was taken aback by the comment at the time.
"Mandela had to have studied and known those principles that my uncle stood for, and I believe because he has been such an intelligent man — and such an intelligent force — that he had to have admired that nonviolent philosophy that my uncle stood for," King explained, recalling that her uncle once applied for a concealed carry permit, only to be told that he was too much of a threat.
"My uncle persuaded people with agape love. And I believe he could have reached Nelson Mandela with that message," she said.
"And I believe that Mr. Mandela perhaps would have embraced it as well," she said. "I think there was some tempering that happened through all of those years of ... incarceration for Mr. Mandela, who had been given an opportunity to do a lot of thinking."
While her uncle was inspired by Gandhi, "his real foundation was by Jesus Christ, who used nonviolence," she said, recalling the occasion in the Bible where Christ reacted with anger, when he cleared the temple of money-changers.
"The real example of Christ was strength in nonviolent resistance and agape love," she asserted.
She blames the continuation of apartheid long after African Americans gained their civil rights in America on South Africa's extended isolation.
"There was such isolation from the rest of the world for a while. To those who were experiencing the benefits, it perhaps seemed idyllic," she said. "And to those who just accepted that ... servitude for so long, it was isolated away from the rest of the world.
"With the onset of technology and things that we have now — when we can look into countries and look into conditions across the globe and see more quickly what is happening — it is easier for that outcry and that voice" to resonate.
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King believes that future generations will continue to be influenced by Mandela for a long time to come.
"When ... I think about everything that he did to bring the plight of an oppressed people in South Africa before the world and to touch the countries of the world, we will know that throughout history there was another valiant freedom fighter — and we should remember him in that manner," King said.
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