by: Tony Thomas Updated:
ATLANTA - As South African president Nelson Mandela remains in critically ill, many civil rights activists in Atlanta are remembering his inspiring visit to Atlanta in the early 1990s.
Mandela visited Atlanta just after getting out of prison 23 years ago.
Channel 2's Tony Thomas sat down with the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, who remembers that day fondly and said he's praying for the man he considers a friend and big brother.
From the summer of 1990 until now, Lowery gives big praise over the now 94-year-old Mandela.
"With the possible exception of Martin Luther King, Jr., I never met a man I admired as Nelson Mandela," Lowery said.
Lowery and Mandela met several times over the years, both in Atlanta in the 1990s where massive crowds greeted Mandela, and also in South Africa.
Lowery and his wife, Evelyn, attended Mandela's retirement party in his homeland.
"I let him sit next to my wife and when he got up to
speak, he remarked he would have stolen her if he had another five minutes to talk to her," Lowery said jokingly about the occasion.
"Your husband and Mr. Mandela have a lot in common?" Thomas said to Evelyn Lowery.
"This is true, they both were struggling for peace and dignity," she responded.
Most notable to Lowery was the way Mandela emerged from years in prison.
"I'm not sure I could have survived in prison for 27 years but he did, he kept his dignity," Lowery said.
Other Atlanta civil rights icons are also weighing in on the legacy of the South African leader. Former Ambassador Andrew Young says Mandela stands for forgiveness.
"The world is a much better place of the life and the spirit of Nelson Mandela," Young said.
"I've been praying for him," Lowery said.