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9 Ways Nelson Mandela's Legal Legacy Lives On

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on December 06, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president and a lasting icon of dogged humanity in the face of racial oppression, died Thursday after a prolonged illness. Mandela was 95.

America's first black president, Barack Obama, mourned the loss of Mandela on Thursday, and took the moment to express his deepest gratitude to the South African leader who inspired his own involvement in politics. "He no longer belongs to us," President Obama said. "He belongs to the ages."

Here are nine ways Nelson Mandela's legal legacy will live on, even here in the United States:

  1. Pro bono and legal-aid services. Mandela's push for social justice began with a groundbreaking law practice he founded with a friend. Mandela & Tambo, South Africa's first all-black law firm, offered free and low-cost services for indigent clients charged with violating segregation laws. Here in the United States, there are many organizations that provide similar legal services for little or no cost.
  2. Civil rights legal organizations. As the American Civil Liberties Union explains, Mandela's fight against "racial inequality, political corruption and the devastation of AIDS" spurred countless organizations to protect the legal rights of everyone, regardless of class or color.
  3. The LGBT movement. Mandela's gift of reconciliation led to South Africa being dubbed a "Rainbow Nation." Mandela was also an outspoken advocate of LGBT equality and greatly impacted the gay rights movement. He appointed an openly gay judge and played a pivotal role in making South Africa the first nation to ban sexual orientation-based discrimination.
  4. Political empowerment. Serving as South Africa's moral center, Mandela led the African National Congress -- once a banned liberation movement -- to a resounding electoral victory in 1994, the first fully democratic election in the country's history.
  5. Proponent for peace. Even after decades in prison, Mandela remained resolute to his mantra of forgiveness over vengeance and inspired people to trust the power of peaceful resolution. For his unrelenting reconciliation efforts and the peaceful end of the apartheid regime, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
  6. Political impact in the United States. Mandela was only the third private citizen in U.S. history to address a joint session of Congress. In 1990, he appeared before Congress, asking for support of the struggle for a multi-racial democracy in South Africa.
  7. Divestment campaigns. Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC) spearheaded the pursuit of "economic weapons" -- divestment, sanctions, and boycotts -- which were key to ending apartheid. Divestment campaigns, the use of concerted boycotts to affect change, is now used to bring attention to global issues like climate change, the fossil fuels industry, "Big Tobacco," and the arms trade.
  8. Education. Mandela famously declared, ""Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Given his tireless efforts to make education a priority, many schools are named after Mandela, even here in the United States.
  9. Compassion for prisoners. During his 27 years in prison, Mandela would read William Ernest Henley's "Invictus" to fellow prisoners. The poem, about never giving up, resonated with Mandela for its lines, "I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul."

To Nelson Mandela, a fist in triumph for the life that was lived and the world that he changed.

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