Nelson Mandela was, to many Long Islanders, a near-mythical figure who served as a beacon of hope and is destined to remain a towering figure in world history.
"He certainly has been an inspiration to me," said Lucius Ware, president of the South-ampton branch of the NAACP. "He's such an historic figure and he will continue to be that.
"It's just great to have that type of person, who's in many respects unmatched by anybody for what he had to go through for 27 years," in prison, he said, "and yet to come out of it and become the great leader and bring people of widely different approaches to governing South Africa together and not to be vengeful."
The death Thursday of the 95-year-old leader of a formerly outlawed political organization, the African National Congress, saddened millions of people the world over as much as it affected Long Islanders, who rejoiced when Mandela visited New York as a free man in 1990.
As many as 1,200 people from Nassau and Suffolk crammed into buses to travel to his appearance at Yankee Stadium that June, while others participated in rallies on Long Island streets, and dances or prayer services in area houses of worship.
"He was a modern-day Moses," said Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum of Temple Israel in Lawrence, who met Mandela during his 1990 visit. "He was an inspiration to all who believe in the equality of people, the resilience of the human spirit and that one person can make a difference."
Rosenbaum said that Mandela made a lasting impression when the two met.
"Just being in his presence, one could feel not only the power of his message but his love of humankind," he said.
New York, and especially its college campuses, was a hotbed of activism during the decades when Mandela was imprisoned and the ANC took up arms against the apartheid political system of white-minority rule in South Africa.
The system crumbled and Mandela, once the country's most prominent, if feared, prisoner, became its president.
"Today, we lost one of the most transformative and influential figures in modern history," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
"Nelson Mandela was a global icon who broke the back of apartheid in South Africa and inspired generations of people around the world with his spirit of resolve and reconciliation," he said.
The city held a ticker-tape parade for Mandela in 1990, Bloomberg said, calling it a "great moment for our city."
New York State and New York City will fly their flags at half-staff to commemorate Mandela's death Friday.
"Nelson Mandela refused to accept injustice, fought relentlessly for what was right, and showed that a dedicated person of courage actually can change the course of history," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said.
Members of New York's delegation to Congress reacted with sadness.
"Nelson Mandela led and changed the world, not with guns nor even with words, but with moral majesty," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y) tweeted.
"His lifelong fight and dedication in the quest for civil & human rights inspires us all," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) said on Twitter.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said: "Nelson Mandela's courage and conviction led a nation to freedom and carved a path toward greater tolerance for the world to follow."