The 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner was known for his work to end South Africa's apartheid regime. He received a life sentence for sabotage charges in 1964, when the nation was racially segregated. Mandela was freed in 1990 after spending 27 years behind bars. In 1994, South African voters elected him to become the nation's first black president.
In June 1990, four months after his release, Mandela visited Atlanta as part of six-week international tour. He briefly talked with Atlanta dignitaries at Hartsfield International Airport, visited the King Center, spoke to thousands at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium, and stopped by Morehouse College. He returned in 1993 to the King Center, spoke at Cascade United Methodist Church, and received an honorary degree from Clark Atlanta University.
"This is our first stop in the southern United States," Mandela said in 1990. "The weather, the landscape, the warmth of the people evokes a memory for us of home. Unlike you, we are still under the grip of white supremacy. It is a great honor and pleasure to be where Martin Luther King Jr. was born and brought up. We look forward to paying our respects and to meeting with some of the most illustrious daughters and sons of this city."
Metro Atlanta and Georgia leaders, including former President Jimmy Carter, Congressman John Lewis, and Mayor Kasim Reed were among those many who shared a few words about the civil rights icon. We've included some of their responses, in alphabetical order, after the jump.
Joe Beasley, Rainbow PUSH Coalition's southeast director (via WABE): "We've lost a unique figure that stood for peace and reconciliation and I think that's what we need is reconciliation in the world because we've been treated bad for so long but it doesn't mean you have to be bitter and I think he shows a great example of that."
Atlanta City Councilmember Michael Julian Bond: "I am saddened to hear of the death of the great humanitarian and leader Nelson Mandela. He has been a transformative figure in the lives of people around the world. His stance against injustice and apartheid and his struggle to conquer this scourge changed the world and the course of human events. Rising from a prison cell on notorious Robben Island, a persecuted prisoner at the hands of a brutal regime, to become the transformative leader of a new nation was an unprecedented accomplishment. We will miss his physical presence but the lesson of Nelson Mandela's life and legacy will be with us always - paving the way for human dignity worldwide and teaching us how to love and respect one another."
Former President Jimmy Carter: "Rosalynn and I are deeply saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela. The people of South Africa and human rights advocates around the world have lost a great leader. His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide, and because of him, South Africa is today one of the world's leading democracies. In recent years, I was gratified to be able to work with him through The Elders to encourage resolution of conflicts and advance social justice and human rights in many nations. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family at this difficult time."
Fulton County Chairman John Eaves: "We are deeply saddened by the death of former South African President Nelson Mandela, a man of immense courage, integrity and passion for his beloved country. The tremendous sacrifices he made to free all South Africans from the bondage of apartheid will be forever remembered and admired around the world, and especially by his friends here in the United States and in Fulton County. His place in history is secured by the dignity, grace and strength of character he displayed in the face of tyranny. We are heartened by the fact that he lived to see his goals accomplished and his people free. We are blessed to have had Nelson Mandela among us for the many years of life he was granted."
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson: "The world lost a selfless champion of freedom, democracy and equality today. Nelson Mandela's courage in the face of terrible injustice helped dismantle apartheid, and his determined leadership guided South Africa through a process of reconciliation that at one time seemed impossible. Mandela's legacy will be one of dignity, forgiveness and a profound dedication to the principles that all free people hold dear. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and the people of South Africa."
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson: "What impressed me most about Nelson Mandela was his humble spirit of forgiveness and love towards those who persecuted him. Neither angry nor vindictive, and with great courage and dignity, he endured 27 years in prison, sacrificing his liberty for the sake of all South Africans. Ultimately, he lived a life of triumph over evil and adversity, leaving the world a better place for his journey amongst us. The spirit of his life will remain in my heart as long as I live."
Bernice King, CEO of The King Center: "Our world has lost one of the greatest freedom fighters and statesmen of all times. Without a doubt, President Nelson Mandela helped to save the soul of South Africa. More than anyone else, Nelson Mandela embodied the same spirit of courage, forgiveness, commitment and willingness to sacrifice for freedom as my father, Martin Luther King, Jr."
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta (via AP): "I felt unworthy to be standing in his presence, to tell you the truth. But, I realized I was standing in the presence of greatness, really. He was like a saint he was like a living saint among us.''
Rev. Joseph Lowery (via the AJC): "I call him the essence and quintessence of African manhood. He represented what African manhood aspired to be better than anybody I know. He was our most beloved statesmen, crusader, leader, and president. He was a man of strong character. I don't know anybody I admired more than Nelson Mandela. How does that man stay in prison for 27 years and come out with his head high and dignity still intact? Not hating and not bitter. You have to admire that."
Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell: "I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Nelson Mandela. His courage and perseverance reached beyond the boundaries of South Africa and served as an inspiration for the entire world."
Mayor Kasim Reed: "Today, we mourn the passing of a leader who was peerless in his sacrifice, courage and commitment to changing not only a nation, but the world. Nelson Mandela was truly a hero for the entire human race. As an undergraduate student at Howard University, I had the opportunity to meet President Mandela when he visited the campus in 1994. I was profoundly moved by his strength, dignity and grace. A photograph from that day hangs in my office; Mr. Mandela has been a constant source of inspiration for me and millions across the globe. We are all better because of the life he lived."
Morehouse College President John Silvanus Wilson Jr.: "I am profoundly saddened by the news of the death of Nelson Mandela. He lived an extraordinary life. It was a highlight in the history of Morehouse College when he visited our campus on June 27, 1990 and we awarded him an honorary degree and unveiled an oil portrait of him, which now hangs in the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. He will forever be among those we admire most as a Morehouse Man."
Former United Nations Ambassador and Mayor Andrew Young (via CNN): "His spiritual presence was far more important than his physical suffering. It seemed as though the more he suffered, the stronger he became spiritually ... The one thing that impressed me always about South Africa was that he was not the only one had this spirit. There was a spirit of reconciliation that was a part of the body politic of southern Africa and I think we can build on that in the world."
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