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Chicago Civil Rights Leaders Remember Nelson Mandela's Life, Legacy

By Wendell Hutson | December 6, 2013 9:28am | Updated on December 6, 2013 12:11pm
 The late South African President Nelson Mandela and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) are shown in 1993 when Mandela visited Chicago. Mandela died Thursday at age 95.
The late South African President Nelson Mandela and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) are shown in 1993 when Mandela visited Chicago. Mandela died Thursday at age 95.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

GRAND CROSSING —  A city with a rich history of civil rights activism, Chicago was hit hard by the death of former South African leader Nelson Mandela Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who was part of the organizing committee that hosted Mandela's Chicago visit in 1993, remembered how Mandela would inspire even the most powerful world leaders.

"I watched the interaction between President Mandela and President Clinton, and it was like President Clinton was acting as if Mandela was his father or elder," Rush recalled Thursday. "If you could have seen the excitement in President Clinton's eyes when he walked through the White House lawn with President Mandela, you would understand what I am saying to you today."

During his lifetime, Rush said many great leaders have come and gone — from Dr. Martin L. King Jr. to Mayor Harold Washington — but Rush said he "can't think of any other person who has had a greater impact on the lives of so many people than Nelson Mandela."

And even though Rush had not spoken to or seen Mandela in more than 10 years, he still regarded him as a friend.

"My wife and I spent time with him at his home, and he was the same person in front of two people as he was in front of large crowds," Rush said. "From this day forward, Dec. 5 will be a special day for me."

Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, said Mandela's courage in fighting apartheid gave hope to suffering people worldwide.

“Nelson Mandela’s life and persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, as well as his steadfast commitment to equality, galvanized the global community," she said, adding that he will "forever serve as an inspiration to everyone to lead lives that provide hope and opportunity to the underserved and disenfranchised."

Other Chicago and civil rights leaders also remembered Mandela on Thursday.

In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel recalled how he and his wife Amy were in South Africa on their honeymoon in 1994 just after Mandela became president.

"I will never forget the sense of possibility and promise that he sparked in the people of South Africa, and as Amy and I were starting a new life together, we felt it was fitting to be in a country as it began a new life of its own," Emanuel said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said that Mandela served as an example of what a leader should be.

“He changed human history and taught activists around the world that in order to legitimately further what is noble, you must actually be a noble person," Sharpton said. "He showed us that you can change the course of human history without lowering yourself to human depravity.”