12/11/2013 01:00 pm ET

Wickham: Mandela's Unbreakable Link With Black America


When Nelson Mandela arrived in New York City four months after his 1990 release from detention after 27 years in a South African prison, he was widely – and wrongly – seen as just the leader of an African struggle for self-determination. But as I quickly learned, he was much more than that.

During a Yankee Stadium speech that I witnessed as a member of a small group of journalists invited to cover his 12-day, eight-city U.S. visit, the then-71-year-old Mandela claimed a special connection to the large black crowds that would turn out for him wherever he went. There is an "unbreakable umbilical cord" that connected African Americans and blacks in South Africa, he said that day.

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