Nelson Mandela had a long history in Washington, one that started before he ever visited the nation's capital.
Mandela's protests inspired the Free South Africa Movement, including sit-ins and arrests at the South African Embassy in Washington in the 1980s that increased political pressure to end apartheid. Some of D.C.'s current local leaders, including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, were among those arrested.
Mandela thanked American leaders for the pressure they brought to end apartheid when he spoke to Congress in 1994: "We were moved because you, like the great humanity to which we all belong, had committed your own human and material resources to ensure that for the first time in the entire history of our country, the people had the possibility to elect a government of their choice," he said.
After his death Thursday, local leaders reflected on Mandela's legacy:
From Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton:
"The world could not have predicted that out of his harsh imprisonment, Mandela, would become a model of selfless, even self effacing leadership the world had not seen. When along with Walter Fauntroy, Mary Frances Berry and I went into the South African embassy years before being elected to Congress I did not foresee that visit would help spur a Free South African movement and the arrests of the well and the little known at the South African Embassy for the end of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela. I did not foresee that there would emerge from Robin Island a man who would convert his personal suffering to the highest uses of reconcilation and a new democratic South Africa. I did not foresee that Mandela could gently and peacefully lead his racially torn nation so that blacks and whites together would want to begin the work of developing a non- racial South Africa. Nelson Mandel’s legacy and history were written well before he died today. Securing and spreading his model of leadership is the challenge he has left to today’s world.”
From D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray:
“His astute diplomacy, his tireless dedication to justice and his deep commitment to non-violent resistance and reconciliation laid the foundation for countless leaders worldwide. Nelson Mandela’s profound legacy will forever inspire all who fight for human rights and peace around the globe.”
Reta Jo Lewis, who has a state department liaison in 1990 helped organize a 12-day, eight-city tour of the U.S. for Nelson Mandela, said, "We are saddened tonight, my heart is full."
The tour "was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. To be able to be with someone who had the kind of values that Mandela had of inclusion for all people -- it was so inspirational.
"I was able to witness how humble he was, but how astute he was. It was not really about him; it was about what was best for the people of South Africa."
Howard University gave Mandela an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1994. Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, interim president of Howard, said, "you can feel the legacy of this great man everywhere you travel in the country and around the world."
"President Mandela’s struggle for the liberation of his people and for justice brought him to Howard University, where the University’s motto of 'truth and service' echoed in his heart. ... Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time. The world is a better place because he lived."
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell called Mandela "one of the true giants of history."
"Nelson Mandela lived a life that broke down barriers, tore down walls, and lifted up a nation, a people, and a world. All Virginians can learn from his example, and I encourage the citizens of this state, especially our young people, to take this moment to study the life of Nelson Mandela.
He has shown us the incredible good one person can do; he has demonstrated the unique, positive power each life contains."
— Rushern L. Baker III (@CountyExecBaker) December 5, 2013
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said:
"His legacy lives on in a democratic and free South Africa. I join millions across the globe in mourning his passing and hope his life will continue to inspire new generations of leaders to fight for more inclusive and just societies."
I am strickened with grief over the passing of my good friend Nelson Mandela!
— Marion S. Barry, Jr. (@marionbarryjr) December 5, 2013
The reaction was not limited to political figures. Others who were inspired by Mandela chimed in:
Rest in Peace Nelson Mandela and Thank you #RIPNelsonMandela
— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) December 5, 2013