Africa for the Africans — Ex-Gov. G. Mennen Williams
Global icon Nelson Mandela, the 1994-97 South Africa president whose death last week had worldwide coverage seldom seen, had Michigan ties.
He came to Michigan for two days, including a memorable speech in Tiger Stadium, in June 1990 as part of an 11-city U.S. tour, just four months after release from 27 years of imprisonment for his anti-apartheid crusade against color-based segregation under white rule.
Mandela had some Michigan heroes, including 1937-49 World Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis, and he met in Detroit with civil rights icon Rose Parks. Furthermore, then-wife Willie Mandela wanted to, and did, meet with Motown singer Aretha Franklin.
Gov. James J. Blanchard and his wife, Janet, were among those greeting Mandela upon his arrival in Michigan.
Former Gov. G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams, then President John F. Kennedy’s assistant secretary of state for African affairs, was an American champion of Mandela’s fight against racism.
Before a planned visit to South Africa, it was in what was then white-ruled Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) that Williams said he favored Africa for Africans.
A miffed white-ruled South Africa then said a Williams’ visit was “not convenient” and cancelled it. (It’s a sorry memory for me since I had been scheduled to cover the trip for UPI.)
Among world leaders, an especially eloquent reaction to Mandela’s death was from British Prime Minister David Cameron: “One of the brightest lights of our world has gone out.”
It should be noted that Mandela worldwide was often a divisive figure and at some times among authorities in the United States and elsewhere viewed as associated with terrorism. He was chummy with Cuba’s Fidel Castro, who was a supporter while Mandel was in prison.
Among Michigan leaders, Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last week, “In a world that is in too many plaes being ripped apart by violence, his example of the power of nonviolence provides a shining alternative.”
Gov. Rick Snyder said, “Through his convictions, courage and visition, he led the reforms that abolished the shameful policy of apartheid and established multiracial elections in South Africa. He suffered greatly because of his principles yet was undeterred in his lifelong mission to combat poverty and other social ills stemming from decades of racial segregation.”
GOP’s moves in Detroit
Detroit is far from fertile ground for the GOP in the next election. It long has been a Democratic stronghold. But last week there was outreach in Detroit by state and national Republicans.
The Michigan GOP opened an African-American voter outreach center in Detroit, and state chairman Bobby Schostak said, “The foundation of our approach is getting out into the community.
Among those attending the opening was libertarian-leaning U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), widely viewed as a 2016 presidential contender, who also spoke before the Detroit Economic Club. He proposed a plan to revitalize cities through creation of “economic freedom zones.”
On the same day in Detroit, Democratic State Chairman Lon Johnson said at a press conference, “Republicans are looking at the demographics of the country, and they’re seeing they can’t win.”
George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.