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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Stories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela: mentors to millions

Martin and Mandela: mentors to millions.

President Mandela successfully fought a long fight for equal rights but, even more, he achieved recognition of the history and essential humanity of South Africa’s largest grouping of peoples.

Mandela was in the office of President when I visited South African in 1998. One day my group visited the Union Buildings, the seat of government of the Republic in Pretoria. A white South African woman guided us on our tour of the grounds.

The imposing neoclassical building focused a huge courtyard, open to the south but bounded by an office wing to the right, another to the left, with a central rotunda in the middle. It was shaped like a four story horseshoe. Wikipedia photo here.

As we stood in bright sunshine amid beautiful gardens, our gracious guide pointed to a symbol on the tower of one wing. “This represents our Afrikaner history.” She pointed to a similar symbol on the right wing tower: “That one represents our English history.”

Pausing, she asked, “Any question?”

I raised my hand and asked, “But where is the symbol that represents your nation’s black African history?”

“Well, there is none," she said. "Not that we don’t respect them. But the British and the Afrikaners are our history.”

She overlooked the entire history of Mandela and additional millions winning the right to vote after decades of struggle. Mandela, the liberation leader, was in office. She seemed to be living in a mental cocoon made of apartheid.

I was further amazed moments when later the bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, a black African himself, approached me and expressed gratitude that I’d been brave enough to ask that particular question. In that context, apparently it was risky to raise such a question.

In my own U.S., Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to win the battle for recognition peacefully, with respect for the opponent even when respect was not reciprocated. Both King and Mandela suffered personally for the cause. King, an ordained minister and Mandela, a Bible student and teacher, were deeply influenced by Jesus.

King and Mandela mentored many younger leaders. I never knew either of them personally but I studied at the coattails of King. He achieved his Ph.D. at Boston University, a degree I won 10 years later under several of the same teachers.

On Monday, Jan. 20, I will remember the Two M’s (Martin and Mandela) as heroes of justice and freedom who helped shape my values. They are mentors to many in a world that still needs their message.

Who is a great mentor of yours? How did he/she inspire you? Please leave a comment by clicking below on “Post a Comment.”

3 comments:

halpease said...

Having been present on the North Central College campus (across the street from the seminary we were attending in Illinois) when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke, and having seen the movie, "Mandela, the Long Journey Home", I particularly appreciated your words. Thanks for sharing!

Darrell said...

Thank you for the memory, Hal! I'd totally forgotten than King appeared at NCC.

Diane Capuano Franklin said...

Darrell, this is a fascinating insight into South Africa's history. I can't wait to read your follow-up post on Monday.