When Nelson Mandela died this week at age 95, he left a legacy as one of the most important leaders in modern history. Mandela rose from humble beginnings to lead South Africa out of its apartheid past, and helped to keep the nation from tumbling into civil war. But before becoming South Africa's first black president, he endured decades behind bars.
U.S. civil rights leaders were among the first Americans to shine an international light on apartheid in South Africa. But calls for economic sanctions eventually led to wider actions, from college campuses to Wall Street. Richard Knight, project director of the African Activist Archive, remembers the role the U.S. indirectly played in South Africa's struggle.
South Africa's official period of mourning for former President Nelson Mandela will culminate in his funeral a week from Sunday. Mandela's death left South Africans with "a sense of profound and enduring loss," says the nation"s president, Jacob Zuma. His compatriots, as well as foreign visitors, are flocking in homage to the Mandela homes in Soweto and Johannesburg.
A writer who has studied Nelson Mandela's life as a young man says the leader known for his grace and forgiveness, and for helping South Africa end apartheid while avoiding civil war, was once seen in a much different light. At one point, he even trained in guerrilla warfare.
The novel published in 1948, months before apartheid was made law in South Africa, gives a haunting image of a truly divided society. Writer Kevin Roose says Cry, The Beloved Country, by white South African writer Alan Paton, paints a picture of the world Nelson Mandela grew up in.
Nelson Mandela served as president of South Africa for five years, elected in the country's first free election with voters from all races. But in deciding not to seek a second term, Mandela set the stage for a modern democracy. On the day his successor took office, Mandela spoke about his country's path to joining the "community of free nations," and remembered how it had "averted a blood bath, which most observers believed inevitable."