Rep. John Lewis on the Death of President Nelson Mandela

Dec 5, 2013

“The whole of humanity has lost one of the most beloved, admired, and inspiring leaders of the last century.  Through his action in defense of human dignity, his unjust, brutal imprisonment, and his attempts to heal a nation he demonstrated to all of us that we must never become bitter or hostile.  He showed us that we each, despite our tribulation, have the power to forgive, that we can be reconciled with the worst offender.  When he walked out of prison with grace, dignity and pride, he taught us how to thrive as members of the human family.

“I had the opportunity to meet and talk with President Mandela on several occasions in South Africa and here in America. I remember as a student, hearing and reading about him long before the worldwide Free Mandela movement emerged.  We identified with him.  We identified with the struggle in South Africa, the Sharpville massacre, and were intimately aware of all the major events that occurred in the struggle against apartheid. 

“The first time I had a chance to meet him was in South Africa after his release from prison.  He gave me this unbelievable hug.  I will never forget it.  He said, “John Lewis, I know all about you. You inspired us.”  I said, “No, Mr. Mandela, you inspired us.”  He said, “The struggle continues.”  I felt unworthy really to be standing at his side.  I knew I was in the presence of greatness. 

“I attended his inauguration, spent time with him alone in the chambers of the U.S. Capitol before he addressed a joint session of Congress, and saw him several times when he came to meet the Congressional Black Caucus.  The last time I saw him in the United States, he said he thought it would be his last journey across the water.

“President Nelson Mandela must be looked upon as modern-day saint.  He was a giant of a man.  Even those who opposed him could not help but admire and deeply respect him. His redemptive, unearned suffering, his dedication to the philosophy and discipline of non-violence, and his magnificent grace are a testimony to the power and endurance of the human spirit.  He was one of those rare individuals, like Mohandas Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., who come along  only once in a generation who are a blessing to all humanity.  They teach us not just how to liberate the body, but how to free our minds and unleash the power of the human spirit.”