Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mike Murase Interview II
Narrator: Mike Murase
Interviewer: Karen Umemoto
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: January 15, 2023
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-526-4

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KU: I know that Mandela came to L.A. and you were one of the organizers of his talk. Was that before or after, and can you give me just a little bit of a chronology?

MM: Yeah. So just again talking about Jackson's campaigns, but Jackson's campaigns were 1984 and '88. Our work in FSAM started somewhere in between. And at that time, not only that apartheid existed, but Nelson Mandela and many other South African leaders were imprisoned. Mandela was, he had been imprisoned for about twenty-seven years. And in 1990, he was, because of the international pressure, he was released by the apartheid regime and came out, and he made a tour of the U.S. as one of the first things that he did within a few months of being released from Robben Island prison in South Africa. And so each city organized sort of welcoming rallies and other activities. In L.A. there were a number of activities we had, but the most memorable is that a lot of us organized the masses of people and particularly, I think, in the Black community. Parents felt that it was very important for Black kids to see the face of this Black hero. And so we organized a six-hour concert and rally at the L.A. Coliseum. I think the capacity is about ninety thousand and we practically filled it. That was 1990, I think. And so, again, I feel like our grassroots efforts, day-to-day efforts, yielded something in terms of exposure of Mandela to a whole new generation of people. And I think having pride in that as Black people, as human beings, to see that happen, that's very gratifying.

KU: Is there any moment about that, is there anything about that really that sticks in your mind?

MM: Yeah. Well, there are several things. One is that, in the Free South Africa Movement, as I mentioned, Maxine Waters was a very critical figure. And she was dealing with other people at her level, because what happened was, once they made the announcement that Nelson and Winnie Mandela would be touring the U.S., all these people came out of the woodwork and they wanted to be the ones that organized the welcoming. So she had to sort of fight these people off and say they're legitimate. I think that the people who worked on these issues for all these years should have some say-so in how the tour was conducted and all that. I remember a lot of instances in which Maxine had to kind of back other people off and sort of put us, the Free South Africa Movement at the center of things. And I think... the other thing that I remember is that we took up a collection.


MM: So when Nelson and Winnie Mandela decided to tour the U.S., all over the country, all these people just started coming out of the woodworks wanting to be the person to claim the victory. And so in L.A., Maxine waters realized that the L.A. South African movement had, the role that she played in the leadership of the movement should not be ignored by people who just show up the week before. And so we had a lot of battles with other forces that wanted to celebrate Mandela. But the other story that I remember, it's not really historically or politically important, but we wanted to raise some money for the ANC, and to... I think in the Black community and any church-going people, they're used to passing the bucked or the basket, collecting donations. So we decided that's what we're going to do. But the challenge, logistically, of passing baskets around, people all around, inside the coliseum, was challenging. But we had designed a system where we would do it very quickly and be able to collect money. But it depended on the lights, the house lights being turned on, so the audience are in the lights, because we didn't want money being passed in the dark. So anyway, for some reason, the lights didn't go on when they were supposed to go on. But we couldn't stop, so we kept collecting money. And we were able to raise about fifty or sixty thousand dollars. I think we should have raised about ten times that. But anyway... and they were mostly dollars and five dollar bills, and so it took six people for three days to count and unwrinkle all those bills, but that was kind of memorable.

The other is that, on the day -- this is before that rally -- on the day that we heard that Mandela was going to be released, we called an emergency meeting. And because of the time difference between South Africa and here, when he got released it was like four or five in the morning here. But we stayed up all night watching this little TV, crowded around this little TV, watching him come out of prison. And so there's a South African dance called toyi-toyi. We were meeting at a little house across the street from First AME church, and so all of us, when we heard the news and we saw Mandela on TV, we went outside and did the toyi-toyi as the sun was coming up. That was a memorable experience, too.

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