Mandingo honored for lifetime as community crusader

Mandingo Tshaka leans on the piano to sing as he is accompanied by Shirley Petet during a ceremony to honor Tshaka as part of Black History Month.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Activist Mandingo Tshaka has probably earned his weight in proclamations and awards over the years, but the Bayside Historical Society, which honored him for Black History Month, thinks he is worth every ounce.

“He’s just a magnificent person,” said Carol Marian, president of the society. “He lived here his whole life and has been an activist for community preservation and safety.”

The society hosted a three-hour tribute at Fort Totten Sunday, pointing the spotlight on the man who used to ride horses through rural Bayside as a boy, but now at 80 can instead be seen riding his trusty motorized cart through the neighborhood.

“The flesh is not what it was,” he said at the ceremony. “But once I start talking, my spirit is revived.”

Tshaka is not shy about talking. His voice has played a central role in his life.

Tshaka has fought overdevelopment in the neighborhood not with his fists, but by putting pressure on elected officials and the city. He vanquished drug dealers from Bayside by organizing vigils, although he did chase a few down the street while wielding a machete.

“It’s a miracle I’m here,” he said with a laugh Sunday. “They threw everything at me but firebombs.”

Former state Sen. Frank Padavan has known Mandingo for 40 years and said although he was the legislator, he would often follow Mandingo to one protest or another.

“He was generally on the right side of everything,” he said.

Some of his exploits have special relevance for Black History Month, which runs throughout February.

In one of his most well-known crusades, he discovered that a Flushing playground was actually a 19th-century cemetery housing predominately African and native Americans.

He got the city to rename the playground the Olde Towne of Flushing Burial Ground, but he is still fighting to have the headstones replaced and the area treated as hallowed ground.

With the help of U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), Tshaka recently helped recognize the role that African Americans played in constructing the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

He got his voice out to the community in other ways.

Not many honorees can provide their own entertainment, but Sunday Tshaka serenaded the roughly 100 people gathered in the Fort Totten Officers’ Club with his velvety timbre.

Mandingo, whose pipes were heard on Broadway and as a member of the Ink Spots in his heyday, stood by a piano in his smart white dinner jacket and black pants with a giant crucifix around his neck and microphone in hand.

Friends would come up to accompany him on the piano, some using sheet music, others not.

After each song the crowd would cheer and ever-so-slightly twist his arm into another encore.

Tshaka has never been one to ignore the requests of the community.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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