As a Student, Obama Drew Inspiration from Mandela

Julie Pac, ABC News, December 9, 2013

The comparisons are perhaps inevitable. President Barack Obama and former South African leader Nelson Mandela each served as their nation’s first black president, living symbols of struggles to overcome deep-seated racial tensions. Each was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But as Obama prepares to honor Mandela at a memorial service Tuesday in South Africa, people close to the U.S. president say he is well-aware that his rapid rise through America’s political ranks pales in comparison to Mandela’s 27 years in prison fighting against a repressive government that brutally enforced laws that enshrined racial discrimination.


In the days following Mandela’s death, Obama began crafting the 20-minute speech he will deliver during Tuesday’s service in Johannesburg, where tens of thousands of South Africans and dozens of foreign dignitaries are expected to pack a sports stadium. {snip}

The memorial service will also serve as a rare reunion of nearly all living American presidents. Former President George W. Bush and wife Laura Bush joined the president and wife Michelle Obama on Air Force One as it departed Washington Monday morning. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were traveling to South Africa separately. George H.W. Bush, the only other living U.S. president, will not attend because the 89-year-old is no longer able to travel long distances, his spokesman Jim McGrath said.

Also traveling with Obama were national security adviser Susan Rice, Attorney General Eric Holder, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was meeting her husband in South Africa.

For Obama, who was too young to be active in the American civil rights movement, it was Mandela’s struggle against apartheid that first drew him into politics. He studied Mandela’s speeches and writings while studying at Occidental College from 1979-81 and became active in campus protests against the apartheid government.

“My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid,” Obama said last week. {snip}


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