nelson_mandela_9.jpgFORT LAUDERDALE – It is a moment in his life that Miami attorney H.T. Smith has never forgotten: the embrace which he received from Nelson Mandela in 1990. “I felt I was kissed by history,” Smith said today.

Mandela, one of the most beloved leaders of the 20th century who overcame 27 years in prison at the hands of the racist white minority regime in his native South Africa to become president of the country, died Tuesday, Dec. 5, at age 95.U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings described the anti-apartheid leader as “a champion of equality.”

“A commanding advocate for equal rights and opportunities, Nelson Mandela led the charge against institutional racism and discrimination in South Africa, fighting apartheid and fostering an era of peace and reconciliation. Truly, the name Nelson Mandela has become synonymous with peace, justice, and the most steadfast perseverance,” Hastings said in a statement.

Palm Beach Mayor Priscilla Taylor said Mandela “had an outstanding effect on Africa and the whole world really. We are all saddened by his passing, even though we knew it was coming,” Taylor said. “He was just a great man and we can learn a lot from what he did, working across party lines to achieve good things for everybody.”

Although Miami-Dade County leaders snubbed Mandela during his trip to the area shortly after his release from prison, Mayor Carlos A, GImenez released a statement describing him as someone “who not only overcame great odds in his fight to abolish apartheid in South Africa but also became a global symbol of leadership.

Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, a  Nigerian-American, said the late African champion for human rights was “an icon for people who want to be free around the world” and “the Biblical Joseph of our time.” “He endured suffering for righteousness,” Ighodaro said.

Mandela, who has been ailing for some time, was jailed by the apartheid regime on June 12, 1964, to life in prison because of his insistence that the system of “racial separatedness” must end.

With very tepid opposition from world governments, including the United States, to that act of injustice, Mandela had to remain in prison until he was freed by then South African white leader F.W. de Klerk, with whom he went on to share the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mandela successfully pressed the white minority to end apartheid and implement multiracial elections in 1994, which his African national Union (ANC) won and he became prime minister, making him the chief executive of his nation.

The Cuban-American dominated governments in Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami, along with Miami Beach, refused to grant Mandela an official welcome in 1990 when he visited Miami Beach as an honored guest of the AFL-CIO labor organization which was a leading advocate for his release.

Smith, an attorney who waged an almost singlehanded campaign against apartheid and Mandela’s imprisonment these thousands of miles away, had succeeded in persuading Miami-Dade County, Miami , Opa-locka and other local authorities to withdraw pension investments in South Africa, which was a rapidly growing trend across the United States.

But Mandela refused to denounce then Cuban President Fidel Castro and his regime over its human rights record and, in fact, thanked Castro for supporting him while he was in prison.

That turned the powerful Cuban-American community in Miami-Dade against him, hence the snub.But the snub, in turn, so incensed Black Miami that Smith led a “Boycott Miami” campaign, calling on organizations and groups around the country not to hold conventions in the county.

Smith estimates that the campaign lasted 1,000 days and Miami-Dade lost about $100 million in convention and tourism revenues.

“We wanted to show we make a significant contribution to this community and also that we woiuld not sit idly by and let our hero be disrespected,” Smith said.

The campaign ended when officials agreed to a major initiative to ensure more blacks would be trained and placed in the tourism industry. Smith was the only Miamian the AFL-CIO allowed on the stage with Mandela during his appearance at the group’s convention.

“I can personally say that Nelson Mandela changed my life when he embraced me during his visit to Miami,” Smith said. “Everybody who is alive has been lifted by his leadership and elevated by his courage.”

*Photo above is Nelson Mandela.