NEW ORLEANS- It's a bittersweet day for South Africans in New Orleans. After 10 days of mourning, Nelson Mandela was laid to rest Sunday in his hometown.
Thousands of miles away, New Orleanians from South Africa held a second line from Jackson Square to Congo Square to celebrate the life of the man who transformed their country.
St. Claire Adriaan grew up under apartheid. He knows first-hand the difference Nelson Mandela made.
“Seeing the difference in terms of dignity being brought back, humanity being brought back into people's lives because growing up as a person of color, going through what we have gone through was dehumanizing,” said Adriaan.
For Zandi Ndebele Sutton, Mandela was like family.
“My uncle who raised me up was in prison with Nelson Mandela for 15 years,” she said.
Sutton marched the streets as part of Mandela’s youth leadership in the 1980s. She was there when he was released from prison, and is close with Mandela’s grandchildren.
“In public he was different than he was in a social environment. Most people knew his kindness, his integrity, his dignity that he exuded every where he showed up, but he really, really enjoyed jokes,” said Sutton.
“He taught us to read the newspaper, morning and evening. In the evening when we get together when we met him, he wanted to know ‘What did you learn today? What's going on in the world?’ Since then that stayed with me.”
Benjamin Haswell also met Mandela, through his father's heavy political involvement. Haswell’s father was the first white man to join the National African Congress as member of parliament.
“[Mandela’s] humility just shone through. A humanity that could not be denied. In apartheid we were taught that black people were somehow less than human. When Mandela entered the room, you knew that that was false,” said Haswell.
Mourners wrote messages to honor Mandela when the second line ended in Congo Square. Throughout the week, people can also sign a book honoring Mandela at St. Katherine Drexel Prepatory School, formerly Xavier Prep, on Magazine Street. The book will later become part of Mandela's archives in South Africa.
“It's like the passing of a family member, you want to be a part of it,” said Keith Doley, honorary consul for the Republic of South Africa to Louisiana.
Those who took part in the second line say the most important way to honor Mandela’s life is to continue his legacy of making a difference for his community, and fighting for both equality and reconciliation.
“The most important thing to honor him and carry the torch forward is the forgiveness,” said Sutton. “When everybody was angry in the country…he was like, ‘Calm down. Peace first. Let's honor and celebrate our freedom with peace and dignity.’”