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SC Civil Rights leader remembers Nelson Mandela

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

A midlands man was among the official U.S. delegation to Nelson Mandela's 1994 inauguration.

Bishop Fred C. James made another trip to South Africa again in 1998, at the request of then President Bill Clinton.

But James was no stranger to South Africa having served with the AME Church, living in South Africa in the early '70s.

James was there as a once political prisoner of the state, became head of state in South Africa, the transformation awe inspiring.

"It was an awesome honor for me, it was a real great, dreamed of honor," said James.

James was no stranger to the anti-apartheid or Civil Rights movements. He noticed an immediate change in Pretoria on the way to the inauguration.

"To see the adulation that was coming from non-black South Africans, people who were rejoicing, had big coverings, big placards over their doors, their houses their yards, welcoming the Presidency of Nelson Mandela," said James.  

James wrote a poem about the experience on Air Force two leaving Johannesburg, one he shared with us today.

"Victory yelled singing from poorly housed peoples.  Church bells ringing from Holy house steeples A moment in time, with justice high-faulting When the leaders of the earth came bowing and saluting," just a portion of the poem read by Bishop James.

Words he would read for Mandela on a return trip two years later.

"I felt this tap on my shoulder and I looked around and here was Nelson Mandela himself, who had gotten up from where he was and walked over where I was and said that poem, I would like a copy of that poem," said Bishop James.  

As many now remember the leader through his own words, shared now on social media, James hopes Mandela's legacy will be one of change.

"Situations, people change, situations change, people change, but what's right does not change, and what's wrong does not change  and if you believe enough in what's right, you can change wrong from right," said James.  

James told us he signed his copy of the poem and handed to Nelson Mandela.  He regrets never getting to have a real sit down conversation with the leader. You can find the poem in Bishop's book "Forward in Faith" on page 176.

Below is a transcript of Bishop James' poem dedicated to Nelson Mandela.

Indelible images of South Africa's liberation' of the triumph of

Political righteousness in our time;

And before our eyes - and in our ears - and in our hearts - and in our spirits:

of Nelson Mandela, the Soaring Symbol, the Shining Son, the Prepared Persona, the People's Preference, the Able Advocate, the ANC Angel, the Magnificent, Manifestation, the Momentous Man!

Dignity beyond dimension; Courage beyond contention;

Readiness to rule; smarts not learned in school;

Support from strange sources, facilitated from foreign Forces.

Tears of joy and gladness, dilute earlier thoughts of sadness;

Victory yell singing from poorly housed peoples,

Church bells ringing from Holy house steeples.

A moment in time, with justice high-faluting,

When the leaders of the earth came bowing and saluting;

GREAT SOUTH AFRICA AT LAST IS FREE!

Now the American Delegation sent by the Clinton Administration

Led by Vice President and Mrs. Gore, First Lady, Hilary, and many more,

Step aboard that star-striped steel bird,

Let the mighty jet engines under her wings be heard, Lift her eagle-crested cabin toward the salutary sky,

"South Africa, we are leaving, but we do not say, 'Goodbye'."

-Bishop Fredrick Calhoun James, May 1994

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