|11 February 1990|
I was 14 years old on the day Nelson Mandela walked out of prison. I remember the television I watched it on, the room I was in, the couch I sat on. I was a white kid in rural New Hampshire, and I remember being overwhelmed with inexpressible hope, inchoate happiness.
I knew that there was widespread interest in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, in the United States of America, but to see that reflected in the conduct of the people when I arrivedd in New York was something very encouraging, very inspiring. The excitement of the people, the remarks they made which indivated unwavering solidarity with our struggle — in the street, in buildings, offices and resident ... flats — it was just amazing; it swept me from my feet completely ... To know that you are the object of such goodwill makes one humble indeed. And that is how I felt.
—Nelson Mandela: Conversations with Myself p. 377
Mandela's death yesterday was certainly no surprise — indeed, obituary writers have had their copy prepared for some time — and yet I was deeply shaken. Though I have some South African acquaintances, I've never been there. Mandela's death has no practical effect on my life, because the Mandela I know is an image, a recording, a representation, something beyond his body's life or death. And yet it is wrenching to think that we now live in a world without Mandela.
There have already been countless tributes, of course, some excellent. (Keep your eyes on Africa Is a Country for some of the best. See also Timothy Burke's excellent "Be Nelson Mandela". And Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Apartheid's Useful Idiots".) Here, I want to note the moment, to remember just how sad it felt to live in the hours after Mandela had gone, and then to replace the sadness with the memory of the hopeful happiness I felt that day when I was 14.
When I was among the crowd I raised my right fist and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for twenty-seven years and it gave me a surge of strength and joy.
—Long Walk to Freedom p. 491