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Upon His Death, Nelson Mandela’s 1990 Los Angeles Visit Remembered

Just months after he was released from prison, anti-apartheid icon and South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela came to Los Angeles in 1990, drawing tens of thousands.

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Nelson Mandela spoke on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall on June 29, 1990. (Credit: KTLA)

Then 71 years old, Mandela crossed the country during his eight-city U.S. visit, which came after he spent 27 years in a South African prison.

“Meeting him was the delight of my life,” Rep. Maxine Waters said of Mandela’s Los Angeles stop.

The First African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Los Angeles was overflowing during his appearance in late June 1990.

“They were filled with joy,” then-pastor Rev. Cecil Murray said of the congregation, “with tears, with their hands in the air, even after he had left.”

Murray and Rev. Mark Whitlock , who was also at appearance, remarked Thursday on Mandela’s calm and peacefulness, along with his sense of purpose.

“You could feel it in his spirit,” Murray said.

Mayor Tom Bradley, Los Angeles’ first African-American¬†leader, gave Mandela a key to the city.

“Imprisonment, torture, endless killings, cannot and will never subdue the flames of resistance fanning in our hearts,” Mandela said, standing on City Hall’s steps.

He also appeared at the Coliseum, filling the venue with some 70,000 fans.

“Many would know Los Angeles as the unchallenged capital of motion pictures, many would regard your city as the city of glamour and splendor,” he said at the Coliseum, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1990.

“We who have suffered and continue to suffer the pain of oppression know that underneath that face of Los Angeles lies the great and noble spirit of the citizenry. We who fight for human rights know the depths of the human spirit running through the hills and valleys of the state of California.”

Mandela returned to L.A. on a fundraising stop in 1993, gathering support for his successful bid to become South Africa’s president the following year.

Mandela died Thursday at age 95, prompting remembrances across the globe.

KTLA’s Carolyn Costello contributed to this report.

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