Statement on Passing of Nelson Mandela

CBTU President Honors Life and Works of Nelson Mandela

Statement of Rev. Terry Melvin International President, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists  

On December 5, 2013 the world lost one of its brightest and grandest stars. Nelson Mandela, father, president, hero and revolutionary passed away leaving behind a legacy and movement forever altered by his works and deeds.  Today we in CBTU mourn the loss of a dear friend and icon.  We honor the life he spent on this earth and cherish the fact that we were able to stand with him as he faced mountains and giants.

Nelson Mandela was once a normal South African faced with the cruelest of realities. His birth country was never meant to be for him, he was never to be considered a real man and the government intended on forever denying him and his kind equality. The Apartheid regime of South Africa was the largest internationally acceptable concentration camp.  Africans were forced to live in subjugation to the will of the Afrikaners.  Yet in the face of this racism and oppression Nelson Mandela rose to the ranks of leader and champion of the Anti-Apartheid movement.

In 1962, Mandela was arrested and convicted for inciting strikes amongst the workers. He was sentenced to 5 years.  In 1964, he was accused of supporting a revolution against the government and received a life sentence for the charges.  It was this trial that brought international attention to the plight of South Africans and the leadership of Mandel.  For his role in fighting for freedom he would spend over 2 decades in prison becoming a symbol of the movement.  In jail he inspired hope, campaigned for non-violence resistance and became an international symbol of change.  It was during this time we saw Mandela the Man transcend into Mandela the Moral Champion.  It was during this transition when we throughout the world watched as a man became a beacon, a human being becoming a North Star to so many lost and oppressed Africans. He became the light many would follow to freedom.

It was also during this time that CBTU found its greatest voice. We as an organization were birthed from our opposition to bad politics. While contesting Richard Nixon, President Emeritus Bill Lucy knew he could not remain silent to the evils of Apartheid South Africa. As Black Unionists in America began standing up, we knew we could not remain on the sidelines while other Black Unionists suffered around the world. A bond was built between Bill Lucy and Nelson Mandela leading to a brotherhood between CBTU and the ANC that has lasted till this very day.

Now it takes more than one man to make a movement. Nelson Mandela was not the only leader of the Anti-Apartheid movement. He was not the only one sent to serve years unjustly at the Robben Island Prison, nor was he the only one to suffer. We never want to diminish the collective struggle of a country, or pretend one man was the sole author of change. Apartheid would not have ended without the sacrifice of millions of South Africans, from Steven Biko to the Soweto Riots; it took decades of struggle to persevere. The passing of Nelson Mandela serves as an international reminder to also honor those who perished before him, the bodies that paved the way for his ascension.    

In the darkest of hours Mandela was the brightest of lights. He was a man who embodied a national ideal and identity. His struggle crossed borders, traversed oceans, and altered the fates of both people and organizations. CBTU is blessed to be one of the many organizations changed by the hand of Mandela. The bond built between him and Bill Lucy has become part of our CBTU legacy and a hallmark of our identity. We honor Nelson Mandela. We honor the man he was, the man he represents, and the many men he has inspired. We are truly blessed to have lived in the light of one so touched by God. We salute you Mandela, may you forever live on through our memories and actions.


For more information about CBTU International, visit

CBTU, which was founded in 1972, is the largest, independent voice of more than 2.2 million African American workers in labor unions today. With more than 50 chapters in major U.S. cities and one in Ontario, Canada, CBTU is dedicated to addressing the unique concerns of black workers and their communities. CBTU is a strong supporter of low-wage workers who are fighting for respect and the right to have a voice on their jobs.

In 2007, CBTU provided critical early union support for Barack Obama’s historic campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008, introducing him to black voters who were very skeptical then that an African American could ever reach the Oval Office. CBTU went on to galvanize tens of thousands of African American voters and union households in key states on behalf of President Obama’s victorious campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

Rev. Terry L. Melvin, who was elected to lead the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists in 2012, is also the secretary-treasurer of the powerful New York State AFL-CIO. He succeeded CBTU President Emeritus William (Bill) Lucy, the iconic labor leader who co-founded CBTU in 1972.