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Nelson Mandela won't get within 100 miles of Buffalo during his 12-day tour of eight American cities, but the meaning of his visit here and the fortitude demonstrated by his 27-year struggle from behind bars against apartheid is nonetheless celebrated by the local African-American community.

"I feel overjoyed and I really feel that it's good for him to come to the United States and see all the support he has here," Charles Costner, drum director at the African-American Cultural Center, said.

"I think this is the beginning of the freedom that's about to take place over there -- the freedom bursting out for the whole world," he said.

"His visit here indicates that those of us who protested and supported his release were justified in the steps we took and the efforts that we've made over the years," said Kofi Lomotey, an assistant professor in the education department at the University at Buffalo.

Lomotey said Mandela's freedom must be weighed against the fact that many white South Africans have rallied to resist change in their country.

"I think the bottom line is to keep the fire burning until those people get up off the seat," he said. "The opposition is going to change one way or the other. . . . They are wrong -- its an inhumane position that they have."

Mandela's visit to the United States is more than a signal to continue international pressure to end apartheid. Some people have drawn parallels between the struggle of South Africa's black majority and the struggle against racism in America.

Eva M. Doyle, a columnist for the Criterion, a local African-American newspaper, said:

"African-Americans feel very supportive of the (anti-apartheid) movement because it was not so long ago since we as a people were fighting the same battle. And we're still fighting here. Look at Crawdaddy's," she said, pointing to the restaurant that apologized publicly for discriminating against blacks in 1989 and paid $47,500 to five victims of discrimination.

Daniel Acker, president of the Buffalo branch of the NAACP, said although African-Americans have made progress, they now face "this resurgence of racism" that is being bolstered by recent Supreme Court decisions weakening civil rights legislation and discouraging the use of affirmative action.

"We need to try and get the 1990 Civil Rights Bill passed to overcome the setbacks of the Supreme Court," Acker said. "We need to fight the Klan, the skinheads and the violent hate groups. We need to be alert and continue to fight."

Kenneth Holley, who operates Harambe Books and Crafts on Fillmore Avenue, has been stocking books on African-Americans, Africa, and the struggle in South Africa for years.

Although Holley said his customers have been buying books on South Africa, he's a little afraid that commercialism might overshadow the "true spirit of what Mandela is about," he said.

"The true spirit is a commitment to struggle for one's principles and being able to stay with that commitment over the long haul. They never broke his spirit," Holley said.

Unlike Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass or even the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela is a "living, breathing" hero, he said.

"To see him come out of prison and still talk about going on with the struggle is something you very seldom see. . . . For the most, either they get killed, their spirit is broken or the whole thing is changed by the time they get out. His philosophy has never changed."

Deputy Assembly Speaker Arthur O. Eve was among 150 special guests who greeted Nelson and Winnie Mandela on Wednesday at Kennedy Airport in New York City.

After welcoming the leader, Eve said he rode in a bus with Dick Gregory, Spike Lee, Arthur Ashe and other celebrities as part of a special motorcade that traveled through a ticker-tape parade to New York's City Hall.

"He has a sort of God-like spirituality about him that draws everyone to him," said Eve. Eve said he got an opportunity to shake Mandela's hand and kiss the hands of his wife.

"We are all looking for a hero, here is someone all of us can look to -- black, white, Asian . . ."

Representing the Legislature's Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, Eve presented Mandela a $5,000 check to continue the anti-apartheid efforts.

Eve said the Assembly has passed legislation several times prohibiting the state from doing business with South Africa, but it has been defeated in the Senate.

Akua Kamau, a local writer, said Mandela's attitude after years in prison demonstrates his ability to be a "healing force" in his divided homeland.

"He has demonstrated no bitterness," she said. "He's been able to meet with anyone, of any nationality, and has been able to put the agenda of the ANC forward."

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