He did what so many leaders just promise to do: he brought people together.
The image of Nelson Mandela moving to a freedom dance in Boston in 1990 captures the charisma and grace of the leader who challenged, and defeated, apartheid–South Africa’s rigid system of racial discrimination.
And while Mandela was a citizen of the world, he called Boston “his second home” during his whirlwind visit here, which included a hero’s welcome at Logan Airport…a motorcade through the city’s streets…a stop at a Roxbury High School…and a huge rally at the Hatch Shell, where he said:
“Massachusetts has won a special place in our struggle.”
Mandela came to Massachusetts just months after he was released from prison in South Africa. He had spent 27 years in jail.
But getting out did not mean giving in, and Mandela used his freedom to free others, committing himself to abolishing apartheid.
“It is an idea for which I am prepared to die,” he famously said.
In 1991, apartheid officially ended in South Africa. In 1994, Mandela’s victory was complete: he was elected president:
“Now this is the time to heal the old wounds, and to build a new South Africa!” he said.
Mandela’s journey from prisoner to president began in 1918.
As a young lawyer, he spearheaded an international campaign of armed resistance against apartheid.
Convicted of treason in 1962, he was sentenced to life in prison.
But he continued his fight for freedom from behind bars, becoming so influential the government made it a crime to print, publish or even post his picture in public.
The long years in prison and the intense politics put pressures on his personal life.
In 1958, Mandela married Winnie Mandela…who was also a political activist.
Their marriage ended in divorce in 1996, after she was convicted of kidnapping.
In 1998–on his 80th birthday–he married the widow of the former president of Mozambique.
And a year later, he retired as president.
But he never let go of his overwhelming love for the nation he sacrificed so much to build.
“Never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one over another,” he said.
Nelson Mandela: a man of humanity, humility, and honor, dignity and pride. A role model for the world.
December is the time when we think who the man of the year was, or the person of the year. This December, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest Nelson Mandela was one of the most influential people on the planet in the last 100 years.
Think about it.