Nelson Mandela, deputy president of the African National Congress, gestures to a capacity crowd at the Oakland Coliseum on June 30, 1990, during the last stop of his eight city U.S. tour.
Peter Southwick/AP

Ben Jealous: “We were so accustomed to our leaders being killed”


The former President and CEO of the NAACP Ben Jealous spoke with Alex Wagner about the first time he saw Nelson Mandela, when Mandela spoke at the Oakland Coliseum in 1990. Jealous said, “This living, breathing giant came out and it just – all of us were so in awe, because we were so accustomed to our leaders being killed. And here was a man who was just fully human.”

Jealous explained how Mandela’s story inspired the next generation of American civil rights leaders like himself: “He had done hard time in prison and he had come out on the other side, showing us that black people could take courageous stands and survive being on point as the leader of a great movement and thrive on the other side.”

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson described Mandela’s rise to the Presidency in South Africa as a “lightening transition.” Robinson recalled working to help families escape apartheid in South Africa in the late eighties – just years before Mandela would be elected President in 1994.  “It made us think and know that change can happen quickly,” Robinson said.

Jealous added that Mandela served as a catalyst for action, saying “he affirmed for us that movement matters, that it transforms.”

Watch Alex Wagner’s full discussion with the former President of the NAACP Ben Jealous here.