NYC Mourns Loss of Nelson Mandela, Who Helped Heal After 9/11

The city will name a new high school in Brooklyn for Mandela next year, the mayor announced Friday

Friday, Dec 6, 2013  |  Updated 6:07 PM EDT
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New Yorkers are remembering Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who died at the age of 95 on Thursday, after several months of failing health. Checkey Beckford reports.

NBC 4 New York

New Yorkers are remembering Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who died at the age of 95 on Thursday, after several months of failing health. Checkey Beckford reports.

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WATCH: Mandela Visits WTC Ruins at Ground Zero in 2001

Nelson Mandela visits ground zero in November 2001 with then-Mayor Giuliani, just two months after the attack, when the ruins of the World Trade Center were still smoldering.
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New Yorkers are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, remembering his healing visit to the city just after 9/11, and a more joyful time in 1990, when a ticker-tape parade was thrown in his honor.

The former South African president died Thursday at the age of 95, after several months of failing health.

He visited ground zero in November 2001 with then-Mayor Giuliani, just two months after the attack, when the ruins of the World Trade Center were still smoldering.

Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement that Mandela's post-9/11 visit "helped give our city strength and hope, for which we will be forever grateful."

WATCH: Nelson Mandela Visits Ground Zero

When Mandela visited the U.S. for the first time in 1990, he was greeted by tens of thousands of cheering people as he traveled in a motorcade through predominantly black neighborhoods in Brooklyn. City officials also honored him with the parade in the city's financial district, and he spoke to a sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium. 

Brooklyn resident Richard Barclift remembered Mandela's stop in Bedford-Stuyvesant: "There were lines, people in the street. Just being in the place, the electricity was everywhere."

"This was our brother, our champion, and it was just great to be a part of that," he said. 

Former mayor David Dinkins, who hosted Mandela at Gracie Mansion during his 1990 visit, called Mandela his "all-time hero."

"As mayor of this great city, one is privileged to receive all kinds of dignitaries... but never, ever have I had the privilege of meeting anyone and being so close to somebody of his stature," Dinkins told NBC 4 New York at an event Thursday night honoring Dinkins associate Bill Lynch, who died in August.

WATCH: Nelson Mandela Visits Yankee Stadium

Bloomberg announced Friday that the city would open a new high school next year, the Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice, at the Boys and Girls High School campus where Mandela visited that year.

"Renaming the campus he visited shortly after his release from prison will forever serve as a reminder that our mandate as public servants is to provide our children with the weapons they need for a successful future and help us build a city of inclusion and opportunity that Madiba could be proud of," Bloomberg said, referring to Mandela by his nickname.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio said in a statement he remembered listening to Mandela at Yankee Stadium.

"We came to believe in his fight for justice and democracy as if it were our own," de Blasio said.

In Harlem on Thursday, artist Franco Gaskin, 85, stood in front of a mural featuring Mandela he had painted on a storefront gate almost 20 years ago. He remembered Mandela here in 1990.

"It was dynamic, everyone was so electrified to see him in Harlem," Gaskin said. "I idolized him so much. He leaves a legacy that all of us should follow."

Mandela's passing was also marked on the marquee of the famed Apollo Theater, which said, "He changed our world" along with the years of his birth and death.

WATCH: Nelson Mandela Visits Harlem Church

Bloomberg also presented Mandela with a key to the city in 2005.

"He devoted his life to building a just, more equal and compassionate world, and we are all better for it," the mayor said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement: "Nelson Mandela refused to accept injustice, fought relentlessly for what was right, and showed that a dedicated person of courage actually can change the course of history." 

Congressman Charles Rangel recalled his "personal hero," saying "I will never forget how humbled I felt when I first met him."

"I hope we can take this period of mourning to reflect on the powerful lessons Nelson Mandela has taught us," the Harlem Democrat said in a statement. "We must honor his life by renewing our dedication to social justice, equality, and freedom for all peoples."

The Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement that Mandela "taught activists around the world that in order to legitimately further what is noble, you must actually be a noble person." 

At popular South African restaurant Madiba in Brooklyn, the mood was mixed. Botswana native Mumcy Mplege said, "My spirit is crushed, just crushed."

But general manager Dennis Dupreez said: "We just want to really rejoice what he's done."

"He's just made such an incredible outstanding impact on Africans in general." 

Flags were being lowered to half-staff at City Hall and all state government buildings in his honor. The Empire State Building lit up Friday with the colors of South Africa's flag -- blue, red, yellow and green -- to honor Mandela. The lights were set to shine through Saturday. 

On Thursday, The New Yorker magazine released its cover for next week — a picture of Mandela holding up his right arm in a fist. 

--Ida Siegal and Checkey Beckford contributed to this report. 

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