gilbert-raiford-web.jpgJust released after spending all of his mid-life in prison, Mr. Nelson Mandela carefully selected a few global cities to visit to thank the world for bringing about his release. He had no way of knowing that by selecting Miami he would be subjected to unspeakable indignities. No other city on this entire planet rejected his visit. Indeed, every other city seemed honored by it.

Here is what happened. Mr. Mandela’s release came about through the pressures of practically every national leadership, including that of a reluctant United States. Many countries were in the vanguard in demanding his release from prison, including Cuba and Libya.
As any intelligent and grateful person would do, Mr. Mandela simply thanked each of them.
That he should also thank Fidel Castro was seen as an affront to some Cuban Americans. Acquiescing to the demands of the forerunners of the tea party, five Cuban-American mayors in Miami-Dade led the effort to snub Mr. Mandela. The city of Miami rescinded the proclamation initially planned that is a universal courtesy and refused to give him an official welcome.

Mr. Mandela was scheduled to speak at the convention hall on Miami Beach and thousands of supporters waited for hours to see him. However, because of the volatile nature of the Cuban-American protests, Mr. Mandela was unceremoniously forced to enter the center through a back door and the majority of Miamians who wanted very much just to see him in person never got that chance.

The protesters carried signs which read, “Go back to Africa,” “Go back to prison” and “Mandela is a terrorist.” The Cuban-American leadership of Miami-Dade never denounced these protesters and their hateful slogans. It seems Mr. Mandela wanted to visit Liberty City but was not permitted to because of “security risks.”

The African-American community was both embarrassed and shocked but not lulled into passivity. Attorney H.T. Smith, who was among the very few local people to actually see and interact with Mr. Mandela, spearheaded a highly

successful economic boycott that lasted about three years and cost Miami millions in tourist dollars.

Night after night, H.T., Marilyn Holifield, Thomasina Williams, David Honig – all attorneys –  met in H.T.’s office to strategize. Odora Nweze, then president of the Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP, and I, a social work professor, joined them.

The sessions were long and laborious but we were determined to prevail. The business and civic communities (not the politicians) of Miami came together and negotiated an end to the boycott, which included meeting a list of 20 demands. 

It is gratifying to know that some leaders of the Miami-Dade Cuban-American community have joined the world in mourning the passing of Mr. Mandela – some, not all. There are still factions that consider a gracious “thank you” as active support and have not wavered from their attack on the character of a man whom the entire world hails as uncompromisingly just.

It is beyond being asinine to even think for a moment that Mr. Mandela supported the detention of political prisoners. The haters’ position seems to be: “My enemy  has to be your enemy. Otherwise, you are my enemy.” That kind of thinking obliterates commonsense. 

*Gilbert L. Raiford, a contract worker with the U.S. Department of State, is a retired social worker who has had a long career in teaching. He may be reached at graiford@hotmail.com