Nelson Mandela, the first black President of South Africa and anti-apartheid icon, died today (Dec. 5) at his home. He was 95.

Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in the small village of Mvezo, located in the Eastern Cape. His father died when he was just nine years old and the local chief took him in and raised him. He attended the University College of Fort Hare for a short time, but was expelled when he took part in a protest with Oliver Tambo, who he came to work with at South Africa’s first black law firm, according to CBS. It was just the start of his fight for equality.

In 1962, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. When being sentenced, Mandela gave a four-hour defiant speech instead of testifying.

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,” he said. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

On Feb. 11, 1990, at the age of 71, Mandela walked out of prison after 27 years behind bars and gave a 30-minute speech that struck not only South Africa, but the world.

“Today, the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our decisive mass action,” he said. “We have waited too long for our freedom.”

He was elected the first black president of South Africa a year after leaving prison, serving one five-year term Choosing to serve only one five-year term where he introduced free health care for children and increased government investment in housing, education, jobs and infrastructure.

Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, where he spoke of his hope that Martin Luther King Jr’s dream would come true.

“Let the strivings of us all, prove Martin Luther King Jr. to have been correct, when he said that humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war,” he said. “Let the efforts of us all, prove that he was not a mere dreamer when he spoke of the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace being more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.”

This year saw the release of two feature films on the life of the former South African revolutionary: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom starring Idris Elba, and Winnie Mandela, featuring GRAMMY winning singer Jennifer Hudson in the title role.

According to CNN, the former president will have a state funeral and flags throughout South Africa will be flown at half-staff from Friday through the funeral.

Speaking from the White House, President Barack Obama said the Mandela “no longer belongs to us – he belongs to the ages.” Obama ordered U.S. flags lowered to half-staff until sunset on Monday.

Mandela is survived by his third wife, Graca Machel, his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, three daughters, 17 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Artists like Q-Tip, Tony Bennett, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and Gloria Estefan were quick to honor Mandela on Twitter after news of his death was announced, sharing their memories of the leader.

Bono wrote an essay for TIME, sharing how the leader of South Africa had a “forceful presence” in his life.

“As an activist I have pretty much been doing what Nelson Mandela tells me since I was a teenager. He has been a forceful presence in my life going back to 1979, when U2 made its first anti-apartheid effort. And he’s been a big part of the Irish consciousness even longer than that. Irish people related all too easily to the subjugation of ethnic majorities. From our point of view, the question as to how bloody South Africa would have to get on its long road to freedom was not abstract,” he wrote. “He was also a hardheaded realist, as his economic policy demonstrated. To him, principles and pragmatism were not foes; they went hand in hand. He was an idealist without -naiveté, a compromiser without being compromised.”

U2 recently released a new song called “Ordinary Love,” which was written for the Nelson Mandela biopic, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom.


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