South African anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela is perhaps the only politician to serve several decades in prison and come out stronger than ever. In an attempt to silence the popular lawyer and African National Congress (ANC) activist, he was arrested and acquitted of treason in 1961. The following year, Mandela was arrested for illegally leaving South Africa. It was in 1964, however, that Mandela’s fortunes would turn for the worse.
Mandela and other ANC leaders were sentenced to life for attempting to overthrow the government. Serving 18 of his 27 years behind bars in the harsh Robben Island prison just outside of Cape Town, the authorities tried to break Mandela’s spirit with hard labor and other forms of ill treatment. Correspondence with the outside world was scarce, as Mandela was only allowed to receive and write a letter once every six months.
Over the course of his imprisonment, Mandela’s fame rose as the spiritual leader of stamping out apartheid. He became known for staging protests and radicalizing other Black prisoners at Robben Island. Eventually, his disturbances sparked prison officials to improve the conditions. Mandela was moved to a different location and eventually put on house arrest. In 1985, Mandela was offered a chance at freedom by then-President P.W. Botha — but only if he would renounce his militancy. In pure defiance, Mandela rejected the offer.
When P.W. Botha suffered a stroke in 1989, it gave way for Frederik Willem de Klerk to replace him in the post. Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and related anti-apartheid groups in 1990, announcing that he would free Nelson Mandela. As he left Victor Verster Prison on this day in 1990, Mandela would address the nation with measurable humility and stern resolve.
From Nelson Mandela’s rally speech in Cape Town on the day of his release:
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.
Mandela would then return to lead the ANC between 1990 and 1994, leading way for the first multiracial elections in the country at the end of his tenure. On April 27, 1994, Mandela would be voted in as the country’s first Black president.
Watch Mandela’s release from prison here:
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1. Booker T. Washington
His mother was a mulatto slave, and his father a White man. This Black educator of the late 19th and early 20th centuries founded Tuskeege University.
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2. Prince Hall
Hall had an English father and a free Black mother and was also the First black mason. Lodges are still named after him in many black neighborhoods
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3. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.
New York's first Black congressman and pastor of Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church.
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4. Bob Marley
Born in Jamaica to a White English father and Black Jamaican mother, Marley became Reggae's ambassador to the world and a voice for people of African descent everywhere.
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Born to a Nigerian father and English mother, Sade went on to become on of the most admired and respected R&B singers of her generation.
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6. Zadie Smith
Born to a Jamaican mother and White father she is the author of "White Teeth" and "On Beauty."
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7. Mariah Carey
Born to a White mother and Black and Venezuelan father, she is the biggest selling female singer of all time.
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8. Lisa Bonet
Born to a Black father and Jewish mother, Bonet was on the "Cosby Show" and a "Different World."
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9. Thandie Newton
Born to a Zimbabwean Princess and a White English father, Newton has acted in "W" and "Mission Impossible 2."
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10. Rashida and Kidada Jones
Born to Black producer, Quincy Jones and White Actress, Peggy Lipton, the Jones sisters have acted in several movies and TV shows.
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11. Maya Rudolph
Born to a White father and famous Black singer, Minnie Ripperton, Rudolph has has a long career on "Saturday Night Live."
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12. Alicia Keys
Born to a white mother and black father, Keys is one of the most respected and popular singers of the 21st century.
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13. Vin Diesel
Born of Italian-American and African-American heritage, Diesel has starred in many movies including "Fast and the Furious."
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14. Etta James
Born to Black mother and White father, Etta James had several hits on Chess Records.
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15. Lenny Kravitz
Born to Black actress and White TV producer, Kravitz has had several hit records over a 20 ear career.
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16. Derek Jeter
Born to a Black father and White mother, Jeter is the only baseball player to win an All Star game MVP and World Series MVP the same year.
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17. Soledad O'Brien
Born to Black Cuban father and White Australian mother, Soledad O'Brien is an Anchorwoman for CNN.
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18. August Wilson
Born to a Black mother and White father, August Wilson wrote "Fences" and several other critically acclaimed plays.
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19. The Hughes Brothers
Born to a White Armenian mother and a Black father, the Hughes Brothers directed "Menace II Society" and "Dead Presidents."