There is a strong connection between the people of Oakland, California and the life and work of Nelson Mandela. The connection dates back almost thirty years when, in opposition to Mandela’s imprisonment, Oakland Congressman Ron Dellums drafted the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. It rallied Madiba’s followers and called for trade restrictions against South Africa as well as immediate divestment by American corporations.
Longshoremen of the Bay Area were among the first to support the proposed boycott by refusing to unload shipments from South Africa. Students from UC Berkeley were joined by thousands of other concerned people from the Bay Area in demonstrations for civil rights and Mandela’s release, keeping the issue in front of citizens and politicians alike.
In June 1990, a few months after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela visited Oakland. He was greeted by 58,000 enthusiastic supporters at the Oakland Coliseum and is quoted as saying to the crowd, “Despite my 71 years, at the end of this visit I feel like a young man of 35. I feel like an old battery that has been recharged. And if I feel so young, it is the people of the United States of America that are responsible for this.”
If Americans inspired Mandela, the reverse is equally true: Mandela inspired the people of the United States and of the Bay Area in particular, to continue to fight for freedom and equality in their own neighborhoods and around the world. Long known as a seat of activism, the Bay Area is one of the most ethnically diverse major cities in the United States – a fitting home for a monument to a great legacy. The work to achieve Mandela’s vision of equality and freedom is being carried on by many, many individuals and groups in the United States, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The memorial will be a place of reflection and inspiration – a landmark where individuals and groups can gather to remember the past, celebrate the accomplishments of those who work for social justice, and gather strength and inspiration to advance the efforts of human rights pioneers that have come before them.