MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – One week after South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela died in his native country, Mount Vernon residents continued to mourn the death of one of the world’s great revolutionary heroes.
The 10-day celebration of Mandela’s life continued in South Africa on Thursday, as members of the Thembu tribe gathered at the family complex to mourn the death of their leader. His funeral will take place on Sunday, when he will be put to rest for the final time.
Summit Avenue resident Arthur Gregory, 55, said that the reality of the former South African president’s death didn’t hit him until this week.
“He’s done so much for racial equality around the world, his impact was so far reaching,” he said. “At first, I was just sad, but earlier this week, I really came to realize that we’ve lost one of the most important figures in history.”
Mandela is renowned for being the face of South Africa’s struggle against racial oppression, and he was a key figure in helping to end apartheid after spending nearly three decades as a political prisoner. He was the country’s first non-white President after he was elected in 1994.
“Goodbye, Mr. Mandela. You’re leaving this earth better than you found it,” Jemele Wilson said on Thursday. “I’m happy to see they’re giving him the celebration he deserves over there, and that all of those presidents and prime ministers paid their respects.”
Nelson Mandela/Dr. Hosea Zollicoffer High School on Gramatan Avenue in Mount Vernon is the only high school in the country that bears the South African icon’s name – although New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that a Brooklyn school would be dedicated next year.
Principal Ralph Burts expressed his sorrow upon hearing about Mandela’s passing.
“Frankly, we lost one of the great moral leaders of all time,” he said. “We’re the only high school in the U.S. named after him, which is fitting, because just like he struggled, our children are struggling.”
South Second Avenue resident Chris Jackson, 25, said that it was important for the younger generation to appreciate Mandela’s anti-apartheid advocacy. He added that it was important that future generations continue to celebrate the South African leader.
“Everything Nelson Mandela did, be it his anti-apartheid and racism stance, or his presidency, should be remembered by our generation, and all future generations,” he said. “He is far too important of a historical figure to be forgotten, and I hope that people our age appreciate it.”
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