Nelson Mandela was a man of genuine warmth and great humility, someone who appeared unimpressed by his own stature or his place in history, a Kansas City civil rights leader recalled Thursday.
The Rev. Nelson Thompson traveled to South Africa on two occasions: once at the height of the anti-apartheid movement and shortly after Mandela was released from prison.
On Thursday, Thompson said he cherishes the memories of meeting the late South African leader.
“He was a man who cannot be paralleled,” Thompson said. “He was a man like Dr. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, or someone of that nature.”
In 1990, Thompson traveled to South Africa as a guest of Bishop Desmond Tutu. Of the visit, Thompson said he was moved deeply to see the blacks there seek the same freedoms that African-Americans had fought for and later realized.
During that visit, Thompson traveled to Soweto to meet Mandela.
“I don’t know why, but I had a different impression of him” beforehand, Thompson recalled. “I thought he was going to be rough and tough, but he was very humble and gracious.
“You really knew you were in the presence of someone who was great.”
Thompson returned to South Africa later and witnessed the first time that black residents cast ballots for president.
“They (black South Africans) were afraid that if there were any kind of disruption, they would call off the election,” he said. “Surprisingly, the election was very quiet and dignified. But once the election was over, there was a period of great celebration.”
Thompson said that future generations will come to appreciate Mandela and his impact on humanity.
“This is the passing of a great man,” he said. “As time goes on, he will get more recognition than he has already received, but not just because of his accomplishments but the character of the man.”