From prisoner to president, Nelson Mandela is credited with spearheading the movement that led to the dismantling of the racist apartheid system in South Africa. Not only is he an inspiration to millions of people around the world, he is also one of the most respected leaders of our time.

In celebration of the civil rights icon, Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center is hosting a photographic exhibit entitled “Nelson Mandela: Character, Comrade, Leader, Prisoner, Negotiator, Statesman.”

The exhibit depicts Mandela’s rise from citizen to world-renowned activist in each of the six areas delineated in the title. According to Howard Dodson Jr., director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard was selected to host the U.S. premiere of exhibit because of Mandela’s connection to the university. He received an honorary degree doctorate from Howard in 1994.

“Beyond that, Howard University was very centrally involved in the anti-apartheid movement,” said Dodson. “The alliance and connection between faculty and students at Howard and the struggling people of South Africa was one of some long standing.”

The Mandela exhibit that is showing at Howard is part of a larger group of photographs housed at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the exhibit originated. All of the curatorial work in terms of selecting themes, images, texts, was done by the Apartheid Museum. MSRC simply provided the venue and edited the larger exhibit to fit the space, Dodson said.

A variety of special events, such as film screenings and panel discussions will be hosted around the exhibit, he said. Supporters of Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement in the Washington area will be invited to attend some of the events.

Dodson said he hopes the exhibit will be well-visited and inspire the public, especially students.

“The most important thing is to give people an opportunity to appreciate in a comprehensive way, the extraordinary life and legacy of Nelson Mandela,” Dodson said. “There’s a tendency for people to relate to him now as an icon. One of the things that unfortunately happens to people who are defined as icons is that they lose their humanity.”

Officials encourage teachers to bring their students to the library to tour the exhibit.
Howard instructor Sharon Fletcher brought her study skills class. Fletcher also assigned the students to write a short paper on Mandela.

“I appreciate the opportunity to be able to see how much influence he has had on so many lives,” said Peru Peacock, one of Fletcher’s students.

Dodson said Mandela’s story is a powerful educational tool.

“It’s not only what he did, but how he went about doing it,” he said. “He had left an invaluable impact on the consciousness of people around the world, about the art of the impossible…There isn’t going to be another Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, but we can be ourselves, and live our lives to the fullest potential, and this exhibit will tell that story.”

The exhibit, “Nelson Mandela: Character, Comrade, Leader, Prisoner, Negotiator, Statesman” is free and open to the public through April 27, 2014. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the exhibit, visit

Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO