December 5, 2013
Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela during a visit to the Freedom Forum in 1993. (Newseum collection)

Remembering Nelson Mandela

He was called Madiba, a clan name that was used as a term of affection.

The world knew him as Nelson Mandela — the charismatic leader of the African National Congress, the first black person elected president of South Africa, and one of the most revered leaders in the world.

Mandela died Dec. 5, 2013. He was 95.

Mandela was born in the Transkei in South Africa on July 18, 1918, a son of the chief of the Thembu tribe. He joined the ANC in 1944 and later battled against the National Party's political system of racial separation, known as apartheid. Mandela went on trial for treason in 1956, and the ANC was banned in 1960. Mandela was acquitted in 1961, but three years later, he and others were sentenced to life in prison for "sabotage, treason and violent conspiracy."

"Only through hardship, sacrifice and militant action can freedom be won," Mandela said in 1961. "The struggle is my life. I will continue fighting for freedom until the end of my days."

Mandela's release from prison in 1990 after 27 years was a worldwide news event. By then, the chokehold of apartheid was slowly loosening its grip on South Africa's black majority. Almost immediately, Mandela picked up the struggle where he had left off, vowing to forever dismantle the policy of "apartness" that for decades had deemed the country's black majority less than human. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, which he shared with then-South African president F.W. de Klerk.

In July 1993 when he was in the United States to receive the National Constitution Center's Liberty Medal, Mandela was the featured guest at the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation that champions the First Amendment as a cornerstone of democracy, and the main funder of the operations of the Newseum. Mandela, who was running for president of South Africa, spoke about freedom in his country and around the world.

Adam Clayton Powell III, a former vice president of the Freedom Forum who is currently a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy, recalled a private moment before Mandela spoke.

"While we were being seated, the AP ran an update from the CODESA talks announcing they had just announced an election date the following April," Powell said. "So, I introduced him as 'the next president of South Africa.' He broke into a big grin, and then he covered the mic and said, 'No one has ever introduced me that way before.' I then covered my mic and said, 'Get used to it.'"

Few images better captured political change in South Africa than news photographs of South Africans waiting in long lines to vote in 1994 — the first time in the nation's history that the black majority, seven out of 10 people, had been allowed. One of the ballot boxes used in the historic election that Mandela won the presidency is part of the Newseum's permanent collection.

Mandela served one term as president of South Africa. He left office in 1999.

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