The Way It Was


1990 To most Detroiters, the corner of Michigan and Trumbull avenues means just one thing: baseball. But on the evening of June 28, 1990, Tiger Stadium was the site of a completely different kind of event, although the excitement it generated was very much like a ballgame. That was the night anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie, appeared at a rally before approximately 50,000 people. Just a few months after he was released after spending 27 years in a South African prison, Mandela visited eight American cities, Detroit among them, on what was dubbed The Freedom Tour. In this photograph, the Mandelas greet the Detroit crowds. While here, Mandela met civil-rights pioneer Rosa Parks, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, Judge Damon Keith, UAW President Owen Bieber, Detroit Pistons John Salley and Isiah Thomas, and entertainers Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin, who also performed at the Tiger Stadium event. In his speech, Mandela quoted lyrics from Marvin Gaye’s classic song “What’s Going On.” Mandela toured the Ford Motor Assembly Plant in Dearborn, too. From 1994-99 the former political prisoner served as president of South Africa. The Mandelas were divorced in 1996; Nelson Mandela died at 95 on Dec. 5, 2013. The next year, in recognition of his July 18 birthday, the City of Detroit renamed Atwater Street at the riverfront Nelson Mandela Drive.

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