The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. humbly honors the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, and a leader in the struggle against racial oppression and apartheid. Mr. Mandela was a hero to not only blacks and whites in South Africa, but to people all around the world struggling to end oppressive systems. He continued to be a voice for developing nations in international forums and an inspiration to millions around the world.
“When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people in his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort. And that is, therefore, why I will sleep for eternity,” Mr. Mandela said.
LDF’s relationship with South African freedom fighters goes back decades. Ted Shaw, LDF’s fifth Director-Counsel led several delegations to South Africa in response to an invitation from Mandela who wished LDF to work with an organization to which Mr. Mandela had once belonged — the Black Lawyers Association (BLA).
“Because there was no history of experience with constitutional litigation, in South Africa, Mr. Mandela asked LDF to help train black South African lawyers. We, along with LDF cooperating attorney James Ferguson of North Carolina, worked with BLA. On one of those missions, almost immediately after Mr. Mandela took office, we met with him at Union House (their equivalent of the White House) in Pretoria. LDF attorneys present with me included Norman Chachkin, Bill Lann Lee, Janelle Byrd, Steve Hawkins, and cooperating attorney James Ferguson. My son, Winston, then seven, was with us. We had a wonderful meeting with Mr. Mandela. A few days later, in Cape Town, we were the President’s guests in his box at Parliament, when the first foreign head of state spoke to the new representative body,” recounts Ted Shaw, Director-Counsel of LDF from 2004 to 2008.
Mr. Mandela’s speech from the dock in his trial at Rivonia in 1964 remains one of the most powerful, moving and riveting public statements of personal commitment to the fight for justice and equality. After being convicted of treason by the majority white South African government, Mr. Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison during which he performed hard labor in a lime quarry. He peacefully created an end to majority white rule by negotiating with those who had imprisoned him after he was released in 1990.
Although Mr. Mandela spent years in prison, he remained steadfast in insisting on forgiveness instead of vengeance. His unwavering moral character made him a world renowned leader. His commitment to nonviolence demonstrates that even the most seemingly intractable problems can be resolved peacefully.
Mr. Mandela’s legacy is highlighted not only by his heroic resistance to racism, but also by his poised and soft spoken manner. He was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in ending apartheid.
In his last public appearance, Mr. Mandela stated:
“I would like to be remembered not as anyone unique or special, but as part of a great team in this country that has struggled for many years, for decades and even centuries,” he said. “The greatest glory of living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.”
In our work to end racial oppression, we at LDF strive to uphold Mr. Mandela’s values. We are forever indebted to his character, his persistence, his dedication, his humility, and his unwavering commitment to his people. Thank you, Madiba.