Nelson Mandela’s Friend in Tulsa

by J. Kavin Ross


The year 2013 ended with the world mourning for South Africa’s first black president, Nelson “Madiba” Mandela, whose passing didn’t just signify human remains laid to rest; it symbolized the passing of a torch—for all people to journey down the road to reconciliation.

Tulsa native Alfre Woodard was among an entourage of Americans who paid their respects at the worldwide celebration for Mandela. President Barack Obama led a group of former heads of state, which included Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, to the memorial service. Woodard befriended Mandela shortly after his release from prison during his first visit to the United States in the summer of 1990. The initial meeting began a long-term relationship between the former Tulsan and the former prisoner of apartheid.

Three years earlier, in 1987, she’d portrayed Mandela’s (then) wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, opposite Danny Glover’s Mandela in the 1987 HBO film Mandela.

At the memorial service, Desmond Tutu, former archbishop of Cape Town and chairman of the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Committee, digitally eulogized Mandela. Tutu was very much a part of the powerful anti-apartheid movement. His involvement, along with Mandela’s, led to every South African’s ability to vote in a white minority-ruled society and the subsequent election of Mandela as president.


Originally published in This Land, Vol. 5 Issue 4. Feb. 15, 2014.