- NAME: Nelson Mandela
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, World Leader, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: July 18, 1918 (Age: 94)
- EDUCATION: Clarkebury Boarding Institute, Wesleyan College, University College of Fort Hare, University of London, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Transkei, South Africa
- Full Name: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
- AKA: Nelson Mandela
- AKA: Rolihlahla
- AKA: Madiba
- Originally: Rolihlahla Mandela
- ZODIAC SIGN: Cancer
Best Known For
Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa in 1994. A symbol of global peacemaking, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Nelson Mandela - Legacy (2:01)
Nelson Mandela - Early Life (2:57)
After being in prison for more than 25 years, Nelson Mandela was released and became the first black President of South Africa.
Despite overwhelming odds and the outlawing of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela remained dedicated to his cause for freedom.
Nelson Mandela was born in a small South African village on July 18th, 1918. From here he would go on to become one of the greatest African leaders in history.
Watch a short video about Nelson Mandela and the obstacles that he overcame for equality in South Africa.
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Mandela took classes in a one-room school next to the palace, studying English, Xhosa, history and geography. It was during this period that Mandela developed his interest in African history from elder chiefs who came to the Great Palace on official business. He learned how the African people had lived in relative peace until the coming of the white people. According to the elders, the children of South Africa had lived as brothers,
but the white man shattered this fellowship. While the black man shared his land, air and water with the white man, the white man took all of these things for himself.
When Mandela was 16, it was time for him to partake in the traditional African circumcision ritual to mark his entrance into manhood. The ceremony of circumcision was not just a surgical procedure, but an elaborate ritual in preparation for manhood. In African tradition, an uncircumcised man cannot inherit his father's wealth, marry or officiate at tribal rituals. Mandela participated in the ceremony with 25 other boys. He welcomed the opportunity to partake in his people's customs and felt ready to make the transition from boyhood to manhood. His mood shifted during the proceedings, however, when Chief Meligqili, the main speaker at the ceremony, spoke sadly of the young men, explaining that they were enslaved in their own country. Because their land was controlled by white men, they would never have the power to govern themselves, the chief said. He went on to lament that the promise of the young men would be squandered as they struggled to make a living and perform mindless chores for white men. Mandela would later say that while the chief's words didn't make total sense to him at the time, they would eventually formulate his resolve for an independent South Africa.
From the time Mandela came under the guardianship of Regent Jongintaba, he was groomed to assume high office, not as a chief, but a counselor to one. As Thembu royalty, Nelson attended a Wesleyan mission school, the Clarkebury Boarding Institute and Wesleyan College, where, he would later state, he found interest and achieved academic success through "plain hard work." He also excelled at track and boxing. Mandela was initially mocked as a "country boy" by his Wesleyan classmates, but eventually became friends with several students, including Mathona, his first female friend.
In 1939, Mandela enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare, the only residential center of higher learning for blacks in South Africa at the time. Fort Hare was considered Africa's equivalent of Oxford or Harvard, drawing scholars from all parts of sub-Sahara Africa. In his first year at the university, Mandela took the required courses, but focused on Roman Dutch law to prepare for a career in civil service as an interpreter or clerk—regarded as the best profession a black man could obtain at the time.
In his second year at Fort Hare, Mandela was elected to the Student Representative Council. For some time, students had been dissatisfied with the food and lack of power held by the SRC. During this election, a majority of students voted to boycott unless their demands were met.
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