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Looking Back: Mandela Was Given Hero's Welcome On His Visits To NYC

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As leaders around the city remember Nelson Mandela, NY1's Dean Meminger takes a look at the African leader's historic visits to New York City.

In 1990, just five months after his release from prison, Nelson Mandela came to New York.

He came asking for financial help and the continuation of economic sanctions against the white regime in South Africa until it agreed to treat its millions of black citizens as equals.

He received a hero's welcome, including a ticker tape parade in lower Manhattan. In Brooklyn and Harlem, tens of thousands gathered along the street to get a glimpse of Mandela.

There was also a celebration at historic Riverside Church. Reverend James Forbes was senior minister there. He says it's an event he'll never forget.

A local pastor introduced Mandela this way: "And he said and now I present to you the moral leader of the world, Nelson Mandela. And the people started dancing the toy toy and clapping, I don't know how long that applause lasted, but It was like a moment in which a little bit of heaven had been dropped down on earth and we were in the middle of it,” Forbes said.

"That day will probably stand out as the most spiritual and most meaningful event in my whole ministry,” Forbes said.

The celebration continued at Yankee Stadium with a huge concert held in Mandela's honor with superstars and local choirs performing.

Mandela visited the city several times, the last in 2005, this time as South Africa's former president.

He thanked the city and former Mayor David Dinkins for helping turn the tide in his country.

"Without your solidarity and support we would have stood alone for much longer,” Mandela said then.

During his return appearance at Riverside Church, he told the crowd he was too old at 86 to think he'd ever come back to the United States. Reverend Forbes remembers how touched he was by what else Mandela had to say.

"And I wanted to come to this church to say thank you for what you meant during the struggle And also in the early phase of the new South Africa. What a more affirming statement could be made by such a nationally known and revered leader?” Forbes said.

Forbes says Mandela stood for freedom, forgiveness and hope. ClientIP: UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP