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Residents reflect on Mandela legacy
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The flag at the Martinsville Municipal Building is being flown at half staff in honor of the late Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa and a leader in the anti-apartheid movement in that country. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Nelson Mandela was remembered by area residents Friday for his courage, integrity, forgiveness, tolerance, bridge-building, focusing on the positive and seeing education as the driver for a better future.

Mandela, 95, was a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who was South Africa’s first black president. He was instrumental in ending apartheid, the racially segregated political system in South Africa from 1948 until the early 1990s.

“At age 54 I can think of few people who have lived such a profile in courage as Nelson Mandela,” said William Wampler, executive director of New College Institute. “He stood by his principles. He never wavered. I think history will judge him as one of those unique leaders who was able to bring together diverse groups.”

“It saddens our hearts such a great man has departed from us,” said the Rev. Thurman Echols, pastor of Moral Hill Baptist Church in Axton.

In the 1950s, Mandela sought universal rights through peaceful means but was sentenced to life in prison in 1964 for leading a campaign of sabotage against the government, The Associated Press reported. He was released after 27 years behind bars.

“Nelson Mandela epitomizes and personifies what a real man of integrity is all about,” Echols said. “After coming out of prison after 27 years, you would think he would have been bitter and vindictive, but he rose above all that.”

“...He tried to bring whites and blacks together. He loved humanity. He will be remembered not just for the blacks of South Africa but the whole of South Africa,” Echols said.

Echols compared Mandela to Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. “and others who have really stood up and died for what they believed in, he was a man of conviction.

“He will go down in history as one of the greatest leaders in the struggle for freedom against apartheid,” Echols added.

Jared Cotton, superintendent of Henry County Public Schools, stated in an email: “Nelson Mandela was an inspirational leader whose actions had a powerful impact on not only his country, but other countries throughout the world. Although we do not have specific plans at this time, HCPS will be looking for opportunities for our students to learn valuable lessons from Nelson Mandela's contributions.”

“He was an outstanding individual,” Henry County School Board member Curtis Millner said of Mandela. “Not many would have endured those 27 years (in prison) when he could have renounced (his political position) and gone free.”

After being released from prison, “he didn’t want retribution. ... He kept the people from revolting and bringing down the government,” Millner said. “It sets an example for other people to think about when it comes to enhancing relationships between cultures, races, ethnic groups and so forth.”

Jim Adams, chairman of the Henry County Board of Supervisors, praised Mandela’s championing education as key to an individual’s or a country’s future.

“Anyone devoting his life’s work toward being a peacemaker should be commended,” Adams added.

“He is the quintessential example of focusing on the positive,” Angeline Godwin, president of Patrick Henry Community College, said of Mandela. “He had every reason in the world to take a negative, bitter interpretation of things he had suffered. ... He translated every experience into the positive and was really a champion of how our thinking can set our destiny.”

Likewise, Godwin said, she tells students they have opportunity to translate whatever their circumstances into something positive.

“I felt a personal connection to him because he championed education as the number 1 driver for a better economy, a better future. ... He was way ahead of his time ... ,” she said.

“My kids were very interested in news stories (about Mandela) today,” Denise Morrison, chair of the social studies department at Martinsville High School, said Friday of her World History 2 sophomores. Earlier in the week, the class had a lesson on Mandela, including his role in helping end apartheid. “We spent about 10 minutes today (Friday)” on a timeline of Mandela’s life and career, she said.

“They (her students) concluded ... even though Mandela was treated very harshly under apartheid and served 27 years in prison, when he gained political power he didn’t try to get revenge or pay back. He was very kind and fair to all,” Morrison said. “The students thought that was very amazing. They thought he was a very special and kind person because he could (forgive) his enemies.”

Seniors in Morrison’s AP Government class discussed, among other things, President Barack Obama and other world leaders planning to attend the state funeral for Mandela and the pageantry of a state funeral, she said.

Some students also recommended two movies they had seen about Mandela: “Invictus” (2009) and “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (2013). Several MHS soccer players in the class also talked about Mandela’s role in bringing the 2010 World Cup to South Africa, Morrison said.

John Edwin Mason, associate professor and associate chair of the department of history at the University of Virginia, said Mandela will be remembered because “his charisma and courage infused energy into the (freedom) movement even before he was imprisoned.” He became an even a greater symbol of the anti-apartheid movement during his imprisonment, at one point becoming the most important political prisoner in the world, Mason said.

Mandela also will be remembered for what he did after becoming president of South Africa in 1994. “He had to become a symbol, not against apartheid, but a new South Africa. South Africa had to reinvent itself,” Mason said. South Africa had been “brutal, harsh ... drenched in blood.” Mandela made himself a symbol of all South Africa, not just black South Africa, Mason said.

He said Mandela’s legacy is important to Virginians because, “Our history of racism is very similar to South Africa’s in many ways.” Mason, whose family is from Brunswick County, told of his father not being able to vote and lacking some other civil rights.

“It took a struggle. Thank God it wasn’t as bloody” as in South Africa, he added.


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