Maryland leaders remember Nelson Mandela as 'symbol of hope in the world'

Two lasting memories of Nelson Mandela stood out to Kurt Schmoke.

The former mayor of Baltimore said Thursday evening that he was in the presence of Mandela on two occasions — in one, Mandela galvanized world leaders amid his inauguration as South Africa's president, while in another, the respected figure of peace and hope sat quietly and approachable in a car on a downtown Washington, D.C., street.


The two moments, polar opposite in their environments, illustrated how Mandela was equally gentle and giant. Nelson Mandela died Thursday surrounded by family in Johannesburg. He was 95.

"He was a symbol of a new era, a changing of the times, not only in South Africa, but a symbol of hope in the world," Schmoke said in a phone interview with The Sun Thursday night. "A symbol of tolerance and hope that we'd have a better day. His presence affected people around the world, not just in South Africa."

Baltimore City Council held a moment of silence for Mandela Thursday afternoon.

"He meant so much to African-American people around the world," said Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. "He knocked down the barriers of apartheid and became the president of a country that imprisoned him."

Mandela's most remarkable legacy to Young was that after his election, he bore no ill will to those who had oppressed him for so long.

"He had no malice or anger for the people that did him wrong," Young said. "That's the mark of a true leader."

Young said he tries to embody Mandela's selflessness in his role as council president.

"He said, 'It's not about me but the people I serve,'" Young said. "It's not about me shining but about the people I serve shining."


In Baltimore, a city where the population is roughly 64 percent African-American, Mandela set an example.

In a statement released shortly after Mandela's death, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said: "My heart is heavy at the news of the death of Nelson Mandela. As a crusader for equality and justice, he sparked extraordinary change and inspired people the world over. Through his commitment to representative government, he not only brought racial equality to the government of South Africa, but he showed each of us that true dedication and perseverance can indeed change the world around us. I will continue to look to the example he set, and urge all of Baltimore to do the same as we work to strengthen and grow our city."

Former NAACP leader Ben Jealous tweeted: "Honor #Mandela by choosing to live with courage, speak the truth, and love all humanity."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, in a statement, said: "Nelson Mandela may have fought for freedom in South Africa, but his moral courage brought hope to people all over the world. The world watched as he sought to vanquish the evils of apartheid, was held captive in Robben Island, and became the first black president of a democratic South Africa. Yet his unimaginable struggles accompany incredible achievements. For as Frederick Douglas said, 'If there is no struggle, there is no progress.'"

Mandela's direct touches in Maryland were rare.

He visited College Park in 2001, speaking to an audience of more than 10,000 at Cole Field House. He spoke of war in Afghanistan, and said the United States' response to Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was justified.


"We accept that the United States and Britain are bent on bringing to book the identified terrorists and that the unfortunate civilian casualties that arise are coincidental," said Mandela, then 83. "We accept that they will and are taking all precautions possible within a war situation to minimize civilian casualties and suffering."

Mandela added: "We must wish that the military action needed in pursuit of the objectives against terrorism will be concluded in the shortest time possible and that the world attention can turn to the other forms of action required to combat and eradicate terrorism."

His visit to Maryland came during a trip to promote a peace agreement with the African nation of Burundi. During his time stateside, he also met with President Bush at the White House.

Among those in attendance on that November day in 2001 was then-Gov. Parris Glendening and then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley.

Thursday evening, O'Malley released a statement on Mandela's death, saying he "leaves us a world that much better than the one he inherited, and a work that must be carried through generations and across the walls that separate us."

Schmoke said at Mandela's inauguration in 1994, the new president tore down those walls. On the same stage that day, Schmoke said, were anti-communist Frederik Willem de Klerk and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

"It was one of the most inspiring events I ever attended," Schmoke said. "It brought together government leaders from all over the world, individuals usually at odds with one another."

Years before, the Congressional Black Caucus brought Mandela to Washington, Schmoke recalled.

Outside a house office building, a car sat with a passenger awaiting a driver. Schmoke asked a security officer if he could speak with the man in the car. It turned out to be Mandela.

"It was just a guy sitting in a car," Schmoke said. "He was obviously very graceful, and an amazing presence to be around."


Sun reporter Colin Campbell contributed to this report.