Walking for four days in Glasgow, Scotland, we explored city squares, art galleries, a majestic 600-year-old university, a grand old estate with a huge library and the largest basement servants’ wing we have ever seen. We got around on foot, via taxi, and a user-friendly underground system affectionately called “The Clockwork Orange.” On one of our walks, we looked up and noticed that we were passing Nelson Mandela Place. Bill then told Natalie and me what Andy, our Glaswegian friend, told him. I was so moved by the story that when we arrived back home in Los Angeles, I wanted to learn more. Here, then, is an inspiring and empowering example of a street sign that reflected the love of a city:
In 1979, Glasgow’s Lord Provost David Hodge hosted a lunch for the South African ambassador. Anti-apartheid campaigners, who would often congregate outside the South African embassy on what was then named St George’s Place, arrived to protest at the City Chambers. Glaswegian’s impassioned response encouraged the next Lord Provost Michael Kelly to put in place a motion to give Mandela the feedom of the city in 1981. Glasgow’s promotion of Mandela’s cause quickly led to other cities following suit and within a year Kelly had launched a declaration, signed by 2,500 city mayors around the world, calling for Mandela’s release from prison. It was against this backdrop that Nelson Mandela Place came into being.
In 1986, St George’s Place, which was where the South African Embassy was located, was renamed Nelson Mandela Place. Imagine the havoc this created for the South African Embassy. Now all mail sent to the South African Embassy in Glasgow had to be addressed to Nelson Mandela Place! A street sign had turned into a city’s bold support for Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela said, “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
I want to thank the city of Glasgow for an inspiring example of how even the words on a street sign can speak for justice and compassion. Twenty years after St. George’s Place became Nelson Mandela Place, the street sign continues to tell a story: Three words have the power to inspire change! One city can inspire other cities!
Nelson Mandela visited Glasgow in 1993, three years after his release, to express his appreciation. In his speech thanking the city for its efforts, he said: “Whilst we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth, a city, 6000 miles away, and as renowned as Glasgow, refused to accept the legitimacy of the apartheid system and declared us to be free, you, the people of Glasgow, pledged that you would not relax until I was free to receive this honour in person. I am deeply grateful to you and the anti-apartheid movement in Scotland for all your efforts to this end.”