USA TODAY - Detroit Magistrate Judge Margaret Baylor recalls coming face-to-face with Nelson Mandela while she was a volunteer for Trans Africa, an African-American foreign policy lobbying group.
The organization had raised money for the African National Congress, and she was to meet Mandela in Durban, South Africa.
"Mr. Mandela came in first. I could not speak," she said. "I was stuttering and sputtering.
"Everyone was in awe of him because of what he did and how he handled himself."
Mandela died Thursday in South Africa.
Baylor, like many Americans, had spent years in the movement to end apartheid, the system in which minority-white rule prevailed in South Africa. When Mandela was released after 27 years in prison for advocating violence to oust the government, Baylor, like many activists, were stunned when he reconciled with his captors.
"He was not mad. He was just going forward to the next thing. I knew that this was somebody unlike most others," Baylor said.
Mandela's fortitude and his eventual support for peaceful co-existence with whites earned him the respect of many. His popularity was evident when he visited the United States in June 1990.
Trudy Gallant-Stokes recalls how Tiger Stadium in Detroit hummed with excitement as thousands of people awaited his arrival. Gallant-Stokes, then a freelancer from Black Entertainment Television, said Mandela connected deeply to the crowd.
"He seemed to be speaking just human being to human being," she said. "He was so humble in spite of all he'd accomplished."
A chance encounter in the hallway of Detroit's Renaissance Center stays with her. Gallant-Stokes was standing with her mother when Mandela passed by a few feet away.
"He just happened to turn and nod at us. That was our moment," she said.
Baylor's moment had come hours before in a hangar at the airport where Mandela had held a news conference. In thanking his hosts, he mentioned Baylor.
"I have a tape of him saying my name out of his lips," Baylor said. "I'm talking about this 22 years later, and I am excited about it all over again."
Mandela's visit changed Detroit, says former UAW leader Owen Bieber.
Mandela brought the city together at a time of racial tension, Bieber said. As police escorted Mandela from the airport, Bieber saw people standing outside their cars as the motorcade passed. He assumed they were angry at the stopped traffic.
"These people were waving to us. There were more whites than there were blacks," he said.
Bieber had seen firsthand the conditions in South Africa's black townships and prisons on a visit to the country in 1986. Bieber, then president of the UAW and a member of Secretary of State George Schultz's advisory commission on South Africa under President Reagan, had been working with South Africa's Metal and Allied Workers Union to free its leader Moses Mayekiso, who had been jailed following a riot with police.
Bieber says he found that South Africa's black residents lived in fear of arbitrary arrest and beatings. When he met Mandela in Detroit, he marveled at his calm demeanor and his lack of anger
"I remember putting my arm around him as he got off the plane in Detroit. It was like having my arm around a bag of bones. He was very gaunt," Bieber said.
Bieber asked Mandela why he did not seek revenge against whites.
"He said there's nothing to be gained by retribution. 'I'm just interested in building a better country for all of its citizens,' " Bieber recalled. "I was just amazed. I have a great deal of admiration for him."