As americans prepared to celebrate the nation’s independence this week, many around the world were standing vigil for a critically ill Nelson Mandela. The confluence was appropriate, for Mandela has symbolized the synergy between America’s democracy and liberation struggles around the world. When he visited Boston in 1990 after his release from 27 years in prison in South Africa, he praised “the pioneering and leading role of Massachusetts” for becoming the “conscience of American society” in the fight against apartheid. He said, “We are even more touched that it was here in Boston that your own independence movement got its birth.”
When he addressed Congress during the same trip, he embraced the full sweep of our independence movement, from George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson to Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King, Jr. “We could not have known of your Declaration of Independence and not elected to join in the struggle to guarantee the people’s life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Mandela said.