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Remembering Arthur Ashe – July 10, 1943 – February 6, 1993)

Arthur Ashe


Arthur Ashe
July 10, 1943 - February 6, 1993

Tennis Player
Anti-Apartheid Activist
HIV / AIDS Educator and Activist
Author of "Days of Grace" & "Hard Road to Glory"

Arthur Ashe - A Biography

Thursday, July 10th, marked the anniversary of the birth of one of our great exemplars of the continuing urgency of blending "celebrity" and sports with activism and a quest for social justice.

Below are several excerpts of a fuller biographical profile of Arthur Ashe posted at the Arthur Ashe Learning Center.

Childhood / Formative Years

On July 10, 1943 Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. was born to parents Arthur Sr. and Mattie C. Ashe in Richmond, Virginia. Arthur began learning tennis from an early age, in part because his father took a post at Brook Field in 1947. The position came with a house that was located in the middle of the blacks-only playground at Brook Field, which was an 18-acre park that included tennis courts. At the same time as he was playing tennis, he was an avid reader and straight A student. In 1950, a few months before Arthur's 7th birthday, his mother died of complications from surgery. In 1950 Arthur met Ronald Charity, one of the best black tennis players in the nation and a part-time tennis coach, who took an interest in Arthur. He began working with him regularly, teaching him strokes and proper form. By 1953 it was apparent that Arthur had a talent for tennis but needed a proper coach in order to keep improving. At this point Charity introduced him to Dr. Walter Johnson, who would become his lifelong coach and mentor. Dr. Johnson was also the coach of the only African-American competing in world tennis at that time, Althea Gibson.


Professional Years

In 1969 Arthur first applied for a visa to travel to South Africa and compete in the South African Open. At the time the country's government enforced a strict policy of racial segregation called Apartheid. Because of this they denied him a South African visa despite his number 1 U.S. ranking.

He continued to keep applying for visas, and the country continued to deny him. In protest he used this example of discrimination to campaign for the expulsion of the nation from the International Lawn Tennis Federation. This was the beginning of his activism against Apartheid, which would become a central issue to him for the next two decades.

In January of 1970 Arthur won the Australian open, the second of his three career grand Slam singles titles. By the early 70s he had become one of the most famous tennis players. Along with Arthur's growing celebrity status, the sport of tennis was becoming more and more popular. However, the earnings of tennis players did not reflect the increased interest and therefore revenue. In response to this he partnered in creating the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) in 1972 with Jack Kramer and others. The ATP was formed to represent the interests of male tennis pros. Prior to its formation players had less control over their earnings or their tournament schedule. Two years later he was elected as the President of ATP.

South Africa eventually granted Arthur a visa in 1973. He was the first black pro to play in the national championships there where he reached the singles finals and won the doubles title with Tom Okker.


Family Life

In 1976 Arthur met Jeanne Moutoussamy, a photographer, who he married on February 20, 1977. The ceremony was held at the United Nations chapel in New York and was presided over by Andrew Young, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. In 1979 Arthur suffered a heart attack while holding a tennis clinic in New York. He was hospitalized for ten days afterwards and later that year underwent quadruple-bypass surgery. He continued to suffer chest pains though and in 1980 decided to retire from tennis with a career record of 818 wins, 260 losses and 51 titles.


In 1983 Arthur went through a second bypass surgery. After the operation, in order to accelerate his recovery, he received a blood transfusion. It was this transfusion that resulted in him contracting human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. Also in 1983, along with Harry Belafonte, he founded Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid, which worked toward raising awareness of Apartheid policies and lobbying for sanctions and embargoes against the South African government. Two years later the immense courage of his convictions were displayed when he was arrested outside the South African embassy in Washington during an anti-apartheid protest on January 11, 1985. That same year his career was officially commemorated by his induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI.

The next year marked another very important milestone for Arthur Ashe. On December 21, 1986 his daughter, Camera, was born. Around this time he also agreed to teach a course at Florida Memorial College, "The Black Athlete in Contemporary Society." In preparation for this, he searched libraries for a book detailing history of Black Americans in sports up through the present. The most up-to-date and comprehensive text available was from 20 years before. This was the inspiration for him to begin work on his 3-volume book "A Hard Road To Glory," which was published in 1988. During this period he also founded the ABC Cities Tennis Program, the Athlete-Career Connection, and the Safe Passage Foundation.

After feeling numbness in his right hand, Arthur was hospitalized again in 1988. Tests showed that he had a bacterial infection called toxoplasmosis, most often present in people with HIV. After further testing it was revealed that he had HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS. This information was kept private at the time.

Continuing to work he returned to South Africa again in 1991 to witness the change to which his tireless work had contributed. As part of a 31-member delegation, he got to observe the political changes in the country as it began repealing apartheid legislation and moving toward integration. His commitment and efforts toward this cause were such that when Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner of the South African government for 27 years, was first set free and was asked whom in the U.S. he wished to have visit, he said, "How about Arthur Ashe?"

In 1992 the newspaper USA Today contacted him about reports of his illness, which had hitherto been secret. Arthur decided to preempt the paper and go public on his own terms holding a press conference with his wife on April 8, 1992 to announce that he had contracted AIDS. This incited a whirlwind of publicity and attention, which Arthur used to raise awareness about AIDS and its victims. In his memoir "Days of Grace" he wrote, "I do not like being the personification of a problem, much less a problem involving a killer disease, but I know I must seize these opportunities to spread the word." In the last year of his life he founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS, which raised money for research into treating, curing and preventing AIDS, the end goal being the eradication of the disease. He also spoke before the U.N. General Assembly on World AIDS day imploring the delegates to increase funding for AIDS research and discussing the need to address AIDS as a world issue, anticipating the global spread of the disease in the coming years. He also continued his activism in other sectors. He was arrested during a protest against U.S. policy toward Haitian refugees outside the White House. That year Arthur Ashe was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year, an honor bestowed upon "the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement," undoubtedly due to his incessant work and indefatigable spirit.

Two months before his death he founded the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, to help address issues of inadequate health care delivery to urban minority populations. He also dedicated time in his last few months to writing "Days of Grace," his memoir that he finished only days before his death.

On February 6, 1993 Arthur Ashe died of AIDS-related pneumonia in New York at the age of 49. His body was laid in state at the Governor's Mansion in his hometown of Richmond, VA. He was the first person to lie in state at the mansion since the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson in 1863. More than 5,000 people lined up to walk past the casket. His funeral was attended by nearly 6,000 people including New York City mayor David Dinkins, Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder, Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown and Rainbow Coalition chairman Jesse Jackson. Andrew Young, the former U.N. ambassador and Atlanta mayor who had married Arthur, delivered the eulogy.


Funeral Service  for Arthur Ashe:

Arthur Ashe Tribute:

Run Athletics pays tribute to the great Arthur Ashe, a singular figure who helped change the social climate of America. He was more than an athlete to the world, he was a leader.

Arthur Ashe's final message

 Arthur Ashe, beloved tennis champion and outspoken AIDS awareness activist, passed away on February 6, 1993. That very day, he was slated to participate in The Connecticut Forum's 2nd ever Forum event, "Straight Talk and Honest Answers About AIDS." Arthur could not participate in the Forum due to new medical treatments he was undergoing, so two days prior to the Forum, he mailed a videotape with a message to the Forum audience. His message, featured in this videoclip and shown to the audience that night, was a practical and poignant call for compassion and understanding. It would be his last public message - Arthur Ashe died just hours before the event, and his death was not made public until the event was underway.


Dr. Maya Angelou’s Tribute Poem to Nelson Mandela


Dr. Maya Angelou
April 4, 1928 - May 28, 2014

Daughter of Africa
Teacher to the World

Maya_Angelou When I hear Dr. Maya Angelou's recording of this tribute poem, I can't help but also think of her example, of her spirit and her legacy to us and to the world.  She will remain with us, and her wisdom will continue to nourish and strengthen us for the journey that remains.

Dr. Maya Angelou was able to see the beauty and potential in all of us, precisely because she learned to see and appreciate the beauty and potential in herself.  She wanted so much to reflect that love and appreciation to us, so that we might also embrace it, and offer it to those around us, and also to the world.  That is her priceless gift to us.  Each of us may receive that gift in different ways, but let us all share it with those around us.

We possess the light that will guide our journey forward.  We remain... "the hope and dream of the slave."

I offer the quote just below, which is pulled from the closing lines of her tribute poem to Nelson Mandela, as our collective message of thanks to our great warrior spirit and teacher, Dr. Maya Angelou.

"We will not forget you, we will not dishonor you, we will remember and be glad that you lived among us, that you taught us, and that you loved us all."

maya angelou - his day is done - tribute to nelson mandela


Remembering Nelson Mandela’s 1990 Release from Prison


speech delivered in Cape Town upon release from prison after 27 years
(read the full transcript below)

February 11, 1990:  24 years ago on this day

Full transcript of Mandela's speech:

Friends, comrades and fellow South Africans.

I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all.

I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.

On this day of my release, I extend my sincere and warmest gratitude to the millions of my compatriots and those in every corner of the globe who have campaigned tirelessly for my release.

I send special greetings to the people of Cape Town, this city which has been my home for three decades. Your mass marches and other forms of struggle have served as a constant source of strength to all political prisoners.

I salute the African National Congress. It has fulfilled our every expectation in its role as leader of the great march to freedom.

I salute our President, Comrade Oliver Tambo, for leading the ANC even under the most difficult circumstances.

I salute the rank and file members of the ANC. You have sacrificed life and limb in the pursuit of the noble cause of our struggle.

I salute combatants of Umkhonto we Sizwe, like Solomon Mahlangu and Ashley Kriel who have paid the ultimate price for the freedom of all South Africans.

I salute the South African Communist Party for its sterling contribution to the struggle for democracy. You have survived 40 years of unrelenting persecution. The memory of great communists like Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Bram Fischer and Moses Mabhida will be cherished for generations to come.

I salute General Secretary Joe Slovo, one of our finest patriots. We are heartened by the fact that the alliance between ourselves and the Party remains as strong as it always was.

I salute the United Democratic Front, the National Education Crisis Committee, the South African Youth Congress, the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses and COSATU and the many other formations of the Mass Democratic Movement.

I also salute the Black Sash and the National Union of South African Students. We note with pride that you have acted as the conscience of white South Africa. Even during the darkest days in the history of our struggle you held the flag of liberty high. The large-scale mass mobilisation of the past few years is one of the key factors which led to the opening of the final chapter of our struggle.

I extend my greetings to the working class of our country. Your organised strength is the pride of our movement. You remain the most dependable force in the struggle to end exploitation and oppression.

I pay tribute to the many religious communities who carried the campaign for justice forward when the organisations for our people were silenced.

I greet the traditional leaders of our country - many of you continue to walk in the footsteps of great heroes like Hintsa and Sekhukune.

I pay tribute to the endless heroism of youth, you, the young lions. You, the young lions, have energised our entire struggle.

I pay tribute to the mothers and wives and sisters of our nation. You are the rock-hard foundation of our struggle. Apartheid has inflicted more pain on you than on anyone else.

On this occasion, we thank the world community for their great contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle. Without your support our struggle would not have reached this advanced stage. The sacrifice of the frontline states will be remembered by South Africans forever.

My salutations would be incomplete without expressing my deep appreciation for the strength given to me during my long and lonely years in prison by my beloved wife and family. I am convinced that your pain and suffering was far greater than my own.

Before I go any further I wish to make the point that I intend making only a few preliminary comments at this stage. I will make a more complete statement only after I have had the opportunity to consult with my comrades.

Today the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognise that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security. The mass campaign of defiance and other actions of our organisation and people can only culminate in the establishment of democracy. The destruction caused by apartheid on our sub-continent is in- calculable. The fabric of family life of millions of my people has been shattered. Millions are homeless and unemployed. Our economy lies in ruins and our people are embroiled in political strife. Our resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid. The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement will be created soon so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle.

I am a loyal and disciplined member of the African National Congress. I am therefore in full agreement with all of its objectives, strategies and tactics.

The need to unite the people of our country is as important a task now as it always has been. No individual leader is able to take on this enormous task on his own. It is our task as leaders to place our views before our organisation and to allow the democratic structures to decide. On the question of democratic practice, I feel duty bound to make the point that a leader of the movement is a person who has been democratically elected at a national conference. This is a principle which must be upheld without any exceptions.

Today, I wish to report to you that my talks with the government have been aimed at normalising the political situation in the country. We have not as yet begun discussing the basic demands of the struggle. I wish to stress that I myself have at no time entered into negotiations about the future of our country except to insist on a meeting between the ANC and the government.

Mr De Klerk has gone further than any other Nationalist president in taking real steps to normalise the situation. However, there are further steps as outlined in the Harare Declaration that have to be met before negotiations on the basic demands of our people can begin. I reiterate our call for, inter alia, the immediate ending of the State of Emergency and the freeing of all, and not only some, political prisoners. Only such a normalised situation, which allows for free political activity, can allow us to consult our people in order to obtain a mandate.

The people need to be consulted on who will negotiate and on the content of such negotiations. Negotiations cannot take place above the heads or behind the backs of our people. It is our belief that the future of our country can only be determined by a body which is democratically elected on a non-racial basis. Negotiations on the dismantling of apartheid will have to address the over- whelming demand of our people for a democratic,

non-racial and unitary South Africa. There must be an end to white monopoly on political power and a fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to ensure that the inequalities of apartheid are addressed and our society thoroughly democratised.

It must be added that Mr De Klerk himself is a man of integrity who is acutely aware of the dangers of a public figure not honouring his undertakings. But as an organisation we base our policy and strategy on the harsh reality we are faced with. And this reality is that we are still suffering under the policy of the Nationalist government.

Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive. The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts.

It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured. We call on our white compatriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too. We call on the international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime. To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process towards the complete eradication of apartheid.

Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way. Universal suffrage on a common voters` role in a united democratic and non-racial South Africa is the only way to peace and racial harmony.

In conclusion I wish to quote my own words during my trial in 1964. They are true today as they were then:

"I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. 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."


Nelson Mandela: A Photography Exhibit at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (@ Howard University Library)

Nelson Mandela: Character, Comrade, Leader, Prisoner, Negotiator, Statesman – A U.S. premier of the internationally acclaimed photography exhibit celebrating the role that Nelson Mandela played in the South African struggle against apartheid.

Please share this with others...

Visit and explore this great exhibit online:

And for those who can visit in-person:

  • Exhibit continues through April 27, 2014 at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center on the campus of Howard University in Washington, DC (inside of Founders Library).
  • Free and open to the public.


Nelson Mandela’s (first) Address Before the United States Congress – June 26, 1990

As many people enter the hectic rush of the Christmas holiday ritual, I wanted to revisit more of Nelson Mandela's contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, precisely because their struggle - and Mandela's public speeches - highlighted the interconnectedness of theirs to the global struggle for justice for African people.

I offer this, and all of my recent (and future) posts about Mandela, with the hope that we not let his example fade exclusively to the annual ritualized reflections and remembrances, with little internalization of the lived example of struggle, activism, and sacrifice in support of a better future for all of our people. History is not in the past, it lives with us in the present, as we endeavor to shape our best imagined future.

On June 26, 1990, Nelson Mandela addressed the United States Congress for the first time, just 4 months after the end of his 28-year prison term in South Africa.

It's also worth pointing out that Nelson Mandela was only the third private citizen to ever address the U.S. Congress.

A few brief excerpts follow, after which is the video of Mandela's full address, courtesy of CSPAN's video archives.  Mandela enters the chambers at around the 10:15 mark, and his remarks begin right around the 14-minute mark.

As you listen to Mandela's first speech before the US Congress, imagine one of our own African American elected representatives speaking with the same level of honesty and candor about the historical circumstances of our people in this country (and throughout the world), and the role and responsibility of this government to act with integrity to right these historical and contemporary wrongs. This is an example of the type of truth, honesty and directness we need far more of.

From the address...

It is a fact of the human condition that each shall, like a meteor, a mere brief passing moment in time and space, flit across the human stage and pass out of existence. Even the golden lads and lasses, as much as the chimney sweepers, come, and tomorrow are no more. After them all, they leave the people, enduring, multiplying, permanent, except to the extent that the same humanity might abuse its own genius to immolate life itself.


Our people demand democracy. Our country, which continues to bleed and suffer pain, needs democracy. It cries out for the situation where the law will decree that the freedom to speak of freedom constitutes the very essence of legality and the very thing that makes for the legitimacy of the constitutional order.

It thirsts for the situation where those who are entitled by law to carry arms, as the forces of national security and law and order, will not turn their weapons against the citizens simply because the citizens assert that equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental human rights which are not only inalienable but must, if necessary, be defended with the weapons of war.

We fight for and visualize a future in which all shall, without regard to race, colour, creed or sex, have the right to vote and to be voted into all effective organs of state. We are engaged in a struggle to ensure that the rights of every individual are guaranteed and protected, through a democratic constitution, the rule of law, an entrenched bill of rights which should be enforced by an independent judiciary, as well as a multi-party political system.


What we have said concerning the political arrangements we seek for our country is seriously meant. It is an outcome for which many of us went to prison, for which many have died in police cells, on the gallows, in our towns and villages and in the countries of southern Africa. Indeed, we have even had our political representatives killed in countries as far away from South Africa as France.

Unhappily, our people continue to die to this day, victims of armed agents of the state who are still determined to turn their guns against the very idea of a non-racial democracy. But this is the perspective which Congress will feel happy to support and encourage, using the enormous weight of its prestige and authority as an eminent representative of democratic practice.

To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity. To impose on them a wretched life of hunger and deprivation is to dehumanise them. But such has been the terrible fate of all black persons in our country under the system of apartheid. The extent of the deprivation of millions of people has to be seen to be believed. The injury is made that more intolerable by the opulence of our white compatriots and the deliberate distortion of the economy to feed that opulence.


We must also make the point very firmly that the political settlement, and democracy itself, cannot survive unless the material needs of the people, the bread and butter issues, are addressed as part of the process of change and as a matter of urgency. It should never be that the anger of the poor should be the finger of accusation pointed at all of us because we failed to respond to the cries of the people for food, for shelter, for the dignity of the individual.


Despite the admitted commitment of President de Klerk to walk this road with us, and despite our acceptance of his integrity and the honesty of his purposes, we would be fools to believe that the road ahead of us is without major hurdles. Too many among our white compatriots are steeped in the ideology of racism to admit easily that change must come.

Tragedy may yet sully the future we pray and work for if these slaves of the past take up alms in a desperate effort to resist the process which must lead to the democratic transformation of our country. For those who care to worry about violence in our country, as we do, it is at these forces that they should focus their attention, a process in which we are engaged.

We must contend still with the reality that South Africa is a country in the grip of the apartheid crime against humanity. The consequences of this continue to be felt not only within our borders but throughout southern Africa which continues to harvest the bitter fruits of conflict and war, especially in Mozambique and Angola. Peace will not come to our country and region until the apartheid system is ended.

Therefore we say we still have a struggle on our hands. Our common and noble efforts to abolish the system of white minority domination must continue. We are encouraged and strengthened by the fact of the agreement between ourselves, this Congress as well as President Bush and his administration, that sanctions should remain in place. The purpose for which they were imposed has not yet been achieved.

We have yet to arrive at the point when we can say that South Africa is set on an irreversible course leading to its transformation into a united, democratic and non-racial country. We plead that you cede the prerogative to the people of South Africa to determine the moment when it will be said that profound changes have occurred and an irreversible process achieved, enabling you and the rest of the international community to lift sanctions.


We went to jail because it was impossible to sit still while the obscenity of the apartheid system was being imposed on our people. It would have been immoral to keep quiet while a racist tyranny sought to reduce an entire people into a status worse than that of the beasts of the forest. It would have been an act of treason against the people and against our conscience to allow fear and the drive towards self-preservation to dominate our behaviour, obliging us to absent ourselves from the struggle for democracy and human rights, not only in our country but throughout the world.

We could not have made an acquaintance through literature with human giants such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson and not been moved to act as they were moved to act. We could not have heard of and admired John Brown, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., and others, and not be moved to act as they were moved to act. We could not have known of your Declaration of Independence and not elected to join in the struggle to guarantee the people life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We are grateful to you all that you persisted in your resolve to have us and other political prisoners released from jail. You have given us the gift and privilege to rejoin our people, yourselves and the rest of the international community in the common effort to transform South Africa into a united, democratic and non-racial country. You have given us the power to join hands with all people of conscience to fight for the victory of democracy and human rights throughout the world.

We are glad that you merged with our own people to make it possible for us to emerge from the darkness of the prison cell and join the contemporary process of the renewal of the world. We thank you most sincerely for all you have done and count on you to persist in your noble endeavours to free the rest of our political prisoners and to emancipate our people from the larger prison that is apartheid South Africa.




Remembering Mandela: Howard University Television (WHUT)

A very nicely done video honoring the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.  Many thanks to the team at Howard University Television (WHUT), and Dr. Greg Carr (Chair of the African American / Africana Studies Department at Howard University) for putting this piece together.

If you have a moment, also read the really nice piece contextualizing aspects of Nelson Mandela's relationship to the Howard University community over the years.



Town Hall Meeting: Nelson Mandela & Ted Koppel in Harlem, NY – June 1990

Anyone interested in learning more about Nelson Mandela's principled leadership, sharp intellect and the nature of his relationship to the United States and the larger global community, must watch the 2-part video provided below.  This is not the entire town hall meeting, but it does represent approximately an hour of that very enlightening discussion.

In these clips Mandela takes Koppel, among others, to task, and makes clear that the struggle for justice in South Africa is principle-based and non-negotiable.  Given the fictitious version of Mandela that many media outlets are feeding us, this gives you a direct window into the nature of Mandela's strong and principled leadership.

While Mandela's humility is evident, you also have a very great example of Mandela's fierce warrior spirit on display throughout these series of exchanges, including clarity of analysis and a willingness to challenge those who question the nature - and strategy - of the South African freedom struggle.

I remember when this happened in 1990, having just finished high school in Detroit, and as I prepared to attend Howard University in Washington, DC that coming Fall.

I highly encourage people to find and take the time and watch these.  Powerful on so many levels!





A Couple of Quick Listen’s from NPR: Honoring Nelson Mandela

I must admit, I tend to dislike the tone, style and substance of the radio pieces posted at NPR, although I still sometimes listen to and read some of what gets covered.  I thought these were worth sharing, specifically because they help get at more of the fullness of Nelson Mandela's legacy and example, and help tell some of the story that isn't being covered as much.

In Soweto, Remembering Mandela As A Figure Of Resistance, on NPR's Morning Edition   (4 min, 31 sec)

While the world remembers Nelson Mandela as the great reconciler, some ordinary South Africans are remembering him in their own way — as a powerful figure of resistance. And they're looking toward the country's future with both hope and uncertainty.


As We Memorialize Mandela, Remember Those Who Stood With Him, by Scott Simon   (3 min, 7 sec)

...But the man who was prisoner 466/64 on Robben Island was a giant among heroes who offered their lives for freedom as valiantly as he did. In a way, the acclaim the world now heaps so justly on Nelson Mandela commemorates them, too.



Now Praised By Presidents, Mandela Wasn’t Always Admired In The U.S. (NPR Story)

As the days pass leading up to tomorrow's national memorial service in Johannesburg, I've been looking out most for the articles that really describe the fullness of Mandela's leadership over the years, especially more of the reality of his relationship to the United States.  Some would say it's 'complicated', although I would say it reflects the truth of this country's relationship to freedom movements around the world, especially as it relates to people of African ancestry.

All of this having been said, I came across this piece by Greg Myre today via NPR.  The following is my take on the key points.  Some highlighted excerpts follow below.

The key points:

  1. While U.S. presidents and other American political leaders are speaking so highly of Mandela today, they fully supported (at worst) and accepted (at best) their oppressive and racist policies for decades, before being pressured to support 'reforms' in South Africa.  While the Congressional Black Caucus isn't mentioned by name, it was this caucus that really kept the torch of freedom and justice for South Africa lit in this country.
  2. The justification for supporting the racist South African government was that they stood with the United States against Communism during the Cold War.  It was a cover, as the people and institutions advancing this position tended to be some of the same people and institutions opposing Civil Rights efforts in this country.  This didn't change until it became politically and financially expedient to do so well into the 1980's.
  3. Mandela's politics were firmly grounded in a "By Any Means Necessary" philosophy, including armed resistance.  This earned Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress a decades-long space on this country's terrorist watch list, a list Nelson Mandela remained on until 2008 - 14 years after being released from prison, and eight years after the end of his term as the democratically elected President of South Africa.
  4. During and after his term as President, Mandela publicly and privately challenged this country's foreign policy, and continued to support other international political leaders... against the wishes of (and threats by) the United States government.


When I refer to the Disneyfication of Mandela, I'm referring to the tendency to manufacture a "Mandela" that appeals to the sensibilities of people, primarily white, who always want to believe in the best possibilities of their moral selves, but who fail to acknowledge and challenge the worst of their moral selves... the part that allows them to completely ignore or rationalize the injustices happening all around them, in places near and far.

As such, don't expect to hear much or any of this "complicated" history during President Barack Obama's remarks at tomorrow's memorial service.  While you might give the president another pass, at least be clear in your own mind that the idea of Mandela we're being fed by many is but a caricature of the real man and leader.

There's more we can learn by studying the fullness of Nelson Mandela's example.  Understanding this fullness makes it even more clear why he's so loved and respected across the globe.  More importantly, understanding the fullness of his example puts into perspective what we should and must expect of each other and ourselves.


A few excerpts from Myre's NPR article...

As President Obama travels to South Africa for Nelson Mandela's memorial service on Tuesday, it might seem as though Mandela was an eternal object of admiration for U.S. presidents and the American public. But that wasn't the case by a long shot.

During Mandela's 27 years behind bars, successive U.S. administrations worked with, or at least tolerated, South Africa's white leaders. Only in his final years of incarceration did he and the anti-apartheid movement become a cause that gained traction in the United States.

In 1981, when apartheid was still in full force, President Ronald Reagan told CBS that he supported the South African government because it was "a country that has stood by us in every war we've ever fought; a country that, strategically, is essential to the free world in its production of minerals."


For years, the U.S. labeled the ANC a terrorist group because it carried out attacks against civilian targets in South Africa. And it was Mandela himself who established the ANC's armed wing in the early 1960s before he was imprisoned.

The U.S.-South African relationship began to change after black South Africans launched a major uprising in 1984 pushing the anti-apartheid struggle onto American TV screens and newspaper front pages.

Soon after, U.S. politicians, many of them Democrats in Congress, began marching in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., getting themselves arrested by the dozens.

Congress then passed economic sanctions against South Africa in 1986. Reagan vetoed the bill, but Congress overrode him. The sanctions were limited and were never going to bring down the South African government. But the law marked the moment in the U.S. that South Africa became a moral and civil rights question, as opposed to a Cold War issue.


However, Mandela was at odds with U.S. foreign policy on multiple occasions.

He remained loyal to those who provided moral and financial support to his group during the years when the ANC had few friends in the West. This led Mandela to meet and praise leaders such as Cuba's Fidel Castro and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

The year after he was freed, Mandela called Castro "a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people."

Mandela also spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and took issue with the U.S. campaign against Iran's nuclear program.

But on Tuesday, Obama is scheduled to address a packed stadium in Soweto, and the only topic that matters will be the way Mandela remade his country and served as an inspiration to the world.



President Nelson Mandela’s (Second) Speech Before the U.S. Congress – October 6, 1994

On October 6, 1994, President Nelson Mandela addressed a joint session of Congress for the second time, imploring the United States, in many ways, to be the country that truly reflects the values it espouses, a country that allows all people to live with the full dignity of a human being and in which all people can fulfill their potential.  More importantly, he reminds the United States of its influence, and thus responsibility, for encouraging the same throughout the world.

In his address, Mandela speaks with ultimate humility, and is very benevolent in his praise of the aspirational idea of the United States, clearly aware of this country's complex relationship to both the construction and maintenance of the Apartheid state in South Africa, as well as (although extremely reluctantly) its demise over time.

When you begin to understand the fullness of Mandela's intellectual analysis and his thoughtfulness of strategy - both during his early African National Congress activist years and during his post-prison years, what you begin to hear in this speech is an elder African statesman calling out the hypocrisy of United States foreign policy, and calling it to task in honoring its own rhetoric on questions of democracy, human dignity and freedom.  While Mandela moved toward a political strategy in the later years of his life, he appears to have consistently maintained his independence of thought and was not shy about challenging US foreign policy.

Here's one selection from this approximately 50-minute speech.  The full speech follows just below.  Mandela's remarks begin right around the 11 minute mark.

It will perhaps come to be that this interconnectedness will produce among you, the distinguished members of these Houses of Congress, as among other actors on the world stage, policies which will spring from a common recognition of the fact that success or failure in the conduct of human affairs, can no longer be measured within the limited sphere defined by national boundaries that are the legacy of an ancient reality, away from which life itself has moved society a thousand leagues. If what we say is true, that manifestly, the world is one stage and the actions of all its inhabitants part of the same drama, does it not then follow that each one of us as nations, including yourselves, should begin to define the national interest to include the genuine happiness of others, however distant in time and space their domicile might be.