The old man opened his mouth to speak and 75,000 people shut up.

You could have heard a pin drop, Chad Taylor remembered.

"Not a noise was made in the stadium when he spoke. He spoke in a whisper. That's the command he had," Taylor said.

Six years ago, Taylor stood on a stage 20 feet from Nelson Mandela, the South African president whose lifelong fight for equal rights made him an international icon.

Mandela had invited Taylor and his fellow Live bandmates, all York natives, to perform in Johannesburg for World AIDS Day.

"It was so surreal that when we started to play, I started to play 'Lightning Crashes' in the wrong key, which I don't think I'd ever done," Taylor said. "It was an out-of-body experience, such an honor and a privilege."

M.B. Whisler, a Jacobus woman born in Botswana, recalled the day she shook Mandela's hand in the early 1990s. Recently released from prison, Mandela traveled to the United States, where he was greeted by Whisler and her group of southern Africans who'd advocated for his release.

"It was incredible to just go on stage and shake the man's hand," Whisler, a past president of the York NAACP, said. "We all sobbed. We just cried. We couldn't help ourselves."

Mandela died Thursday at age 95.

That afternoon, Taylor said, he was searching for photos from the band's 2007 trip to South Africa.

"Now, all of a sudden, it's like he's gone and there won't be any more pictures," Taylor said. "I'm still in a little bit of shock.


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Everywhere he went, everyone called Mandela "father." Despite his old age, Mandela spoke in a "flute-like voice" and emanated childlike innocence, Taylor said.

Interacting with Mandela was like interacting "with a person that had lived for thousands of years," he said.

"I've been around a lot important people and never around anyone of that much substance," Taylor said.

Rabiya Khan, a York City resident, said she was a youngster living in London when her mother became interested in Mandela.

"I remember her buying us these 'Free Mandela' t-shirts," Khan said.

After moving to the United States in 1989, Khan said she continued to follow Mandela's life. She joined an Amnesty International club in high school and participated in a letter-writing campaign to South Africa's leaders.

When Mandela was freed, Khan said, "It felt like it was a member of our family."

"You could understand the triumph and joy and how elated the people were," she said.

Whisler said Mandela's legacy is the freedom of his country.

"Let us remember him as a kind person, a person who forgave people who had wronged him terribly, a person who had a big heart, a person who had a goal to free his country," she said. "And that's all he ever wanted, to make his country free and try to get equity for everyone."

- Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.