The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, acting on a motion by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ridley-Thomas, has voted unanimously to add Nobel laureate and former South African president Nelson Mandela to the Coliseum’s Court of Honor.
Since 1932, the Court of Honor, located in the Coliseum’s columned peristyle, has honored persons and events of historical significance. Along with athletes and Los Angeles leaders, the court includes images of world leaders who have addressed audiences in the Coliseum. The visits of President John F. Kennedy, Pope John Paul II and the Rev. Billy Graham are already commemorated there. “Nelson Mandela will join John F. Kennedy as one of two presidents honored at the Coliseum,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “President Kennedy and President Mandela were both champions of justice and equality for all, and both sacrificed dearly for their nations.”
Mandela appeared at the Coliseum in June, 1990, just four months after his release from prison in South Africa. Thousands turned out to hear the anti-Apartheid leader, whose unjust imprisonment of 27 years focused world attention on the plight of South Africa’s black majority. His Coliseum rally was a key part of his first visit to the United States, and was noted worldwide in newspapers and television and radio broadcasts.
According to news reports at the time, Mandela said to the crowd:
“We could not have left the United States without visiting the city which daily nourished the dreams of millions of people the world over,” Mandela told an estimated 70,000 people who filled the Coliseum, many waving fists and chanting his name. “Many would know Los Angeles as the unchallenged capital of motion pictures, many would regard your city as the city of glamour and splendor.
“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.”
Three years after visiting Los Angeles, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The next year, he was elected President of the Republic of South Africa. Historically, the Mandela Presidency became a model of reconciliation and humanity, which Newsweek magazine described as “Washington and Lincoln rolled into one.”