Madiba In Miami, Madiba In Chicago

Dec 6, 2013

Credit South Africa The Good News / Wikimedia Commons

In the summer of 1993 Nelson Mandela was touring the United States raising money for his African National Congress political party. He visited one of the most racially separate cities in the U.S. but had a much different experience compared to his visit three years earlier in Miami.

Mandela came to visit in early July. That summer I was working as an intern for a CBS News radio station in Chicago. I was assigned to help the reporter who was on scene at host Rev. Jesse Jackson's headquarters in Chicago's South Side, where the population is largely African-American.

The South Side is a collection of neighborhoods that had been vibrant in the early and middle parts of the 20th Century thanks to steel and car manufacturing. Some neighborhoods were split when an interstate was built, not unlike Liberty City and Overtown. However, Chicago's smaller Latin population (compared to South Florida) lacked significant ties to Cuba and the political overtones that come with them.

It was hot that July afternoon. Thousands of people crowded the street in the neighborhood surrounding the location where Mandela was to speak. But the room in which he appeared was relatively small -- just a few hundred people were able to squeeze into the space to hear Mandela.

It was no surprise he visited Chicago. The city's African-American leaders were among national leaders on race issues. Illinois' public pension plan was among the first to divest its financial interests in companies doing business in South Africa, due to apartheid. Still, this visit came three years after his release from prison. And it was for a very different reason than his 1990 visit to Miami Beach.

In those three years, Mandela continued to transform from celebrated and controversial political prisoner to international politician.