Locals remember meeting Mandela - KSLA News 12 Shreveport, Louisiana News Weather & Sports

Locals remember meeting Mandela

Posted: Updated: Dec 6, 2013 07:28 PM
Louisiana State Senator Greg Tarver of Shreveport and his wife Velma got to meet former South African president Nelson Mandela in Baton Rouge in May of 2000. Louisiana State Senator Greg Tarver of Shreveport and his wife Velma got to meet former South African president Nelson Mandela in Baton Rouge in May of 2000.
SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) -

From the Dalai Lama in India, to President Obama in Washington D.C., the man people called "Mandiba" connected to leaders everywhere, spreading a message of peace and hope. Even right here in the ArkLaTex, people are speaking of Mandela in reverent terms. That includes those who actually met him during Mandela's visit to Louisiana 13 years ago.

Nelson Mandela spent four days in Louisiana back in May of 2000. He arrived to a big celebration at Southern University's Baton Rouge campus. That's where Democratic Louisiana State Senator Greg Tarver of Shreveport and his wife Velma got to meet the former South African president, right after the senator's acquittal on corruption charges.

Senator Tarver recalled, "It was beautiful for us because prior to that day I was in trial and I was found not guilty. And the next day I met a great man named President Mandela."

The senator's own brother, Dr. Leon Tarver, served as Southern University System president at the time. In fact, he's the one who invited Mandela. "I remember a reporter asking him why he came all the way from South Africa to Southern. And he replied, 'I came here to honor the work that Southern University is doing in Africa.' And I tell you what, that made my day!"

White supremacists demonstrated against Mandela during his visit to Baton Rouge, even labeling him a terrorist for his actions against apartheid back in the 1960s. But that didn't stop the celebrations in his honor here in Louisiana.

That included a student group that performed a South African dance. Senator Tarver and his wife smiled while recalling that moment of Mandela's trip:

VELMA TARVER: "...And he just stands up and he starts dancing. And I just thought, 'Wow!'(laugh)"
SEN. GREG TARVER: "Eighty-one years of age, just dancing."
VELMA TARVER: "He just stood up and started dancing."

Sen. Tarver and his wife said even after Mandela's death, his life continues to be an inspiration:

SEN. GREG TARVER: "You have to ask yourself, 'could I be this type of man?' And the answer to that is, 'no.' (laugh)"
VELMA TARVER: "Well, you can certainly try. (laugh) Work towards it. (laugh)"

Both LSU and Southern University honored Mandela with honorary degrees during his visit. Southern also renamed its Public Policy and Urban Affairs School after him. Mandela died Friday at the age of 95. His funeral is set for December 15th.

Copyright 2013 KSLA. All rights reserved.

Powered by WorldNow