South African resistance leader, president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela passed away last week. His efforts at opposing apartheid and supporting civil rights in South Africa from the 1950s until his release from prison in 1990 marked him as one of the most influential political prisoners and social reformers of his time. Many regard him as an international symbol of human rights, as demonstrated by several world leaders travelling to attend his state funeral tomorrow. He was 95 years old.
A look at the Encyclopedia of World Biography sheds light on his more than 60-year legacy. The son of a Xhosa chief in the Transkei, or "black homeland" of South Africa, Mandela left to study law at Witwatersrand University and began practicing in 1952 - at the same time he joined the Youth League of the African National Congress (ANC). This was a turbulent time in the apartheid resistance movement, and Mandela and his younger nationalists debated the utility of nonviolent tactics. As the Youth League leader, Mandela was actually sentenced to his first 9 months in jail for his association with militants. As the 1960s dawned, Mandela's links to the then-banned ANC and later the Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) led to his involvement in the Rivonia trial, where he was sentenced to life in prison on Robben Island.
It was at this trial, notably, that Mandela made a point of placing himself above racism. According to the Encyclopedia, he said:
"I want at once to make it clear that I am not a racialist and do not support any racialism of any kind, because to me racialism is a barbaric thing whether it comes from a black man or a white man."
And it was during this 27-year prison sentence that his example of quiet suffering for the cause of human rights earned him martyrdom in the eyes of so many. Moved several times for his influence on fellow prisoners as well as personal illnesses, Mandela nonetheless remained a figure of apartheid resistance while incarcerated. Boycotts and civil unrest mounted in the 1970s and '80s, and in 1990, President de Klerk was finally convinced by worldwide outcry to release Mandela. He and Mandela eventually worked together in the Convention for a Democratic South Africa to establish a Democratic government in 1994, winning them both the Nobel Peace Prize.
Take a moment to honor this impressive world figure at Naperville Public Library. Browse our shelves or delve into our online resources (Opposing Viewpoints in Context has especially good sources) to remember his important teachings.