For a man imprisoned for nearly three decades, Nelson Mandela maintained an admirable grace throughout his 95 year life. He inspired the world with his messages of equality and love, and became an icon of the anti-apartheid movement.
As a political leader, Mr. Mandela fought for freedom for all. When he defended himself against the charge of treason that would eventually lead to his imprisonment on Robben Island, he explained his position with great clarity. He told the court, "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
After 27 years in prison, Mr. Mandela was freed in 1990 by South African President F.W. de Klerk who acted to quell violence within the country. Three years later, Mr. Mandela and President Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize together. The next year, Mr. Mandela was elected president of South Africa.
His incredible story is inspirational in and of itself. However, it was his ability to retain what President Obama called “fierce dignity and unbending will” in the face of adversity that made him a hero to so many. His tender smile and quiet determination will live on along with his many achievements.
Rocky Mountain PBS will air a special edition of Frontline’s Nelson Mandela: on December 6 at 9 PM. You may watch the film in its entirety here. For more on Nelson Mandela, take a look at PBS NewsHour’s tribute.