Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Mandela Touts Education on Louisiana Tour

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Mandela Touts Education on Louisiana Tour

Article excerpt

BATON ROUGE, LA. -- In his first trip to the deep South last month, Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela repeatedly emphasized the importance of education, particularly to Black communities struggling to shed the remnants of racial segregation.

When an African American girl from a local high school asked the former South African president for some advice, Mandela urged her to stay in school and study hard. Throughout his visit to Baton Rouge, Mandela repeatedly emphasized the importance of education, especially to the Black community.

"Education is the most powerful weapon you can have as an individual, and once you've got it, nobody can take it away from you," Mandela told young Letitia Smith.

Earlier, Mandela had given the same advice to 800 graduates at historically Black Southern University.

"It's no use passing your first (academic) degree and resting contentedly," Mandela told the grads.

Noting that "competition has become ruthless" in the modern world, the former South African president told the students that they should pursue at least a master's degree and, if possible, a doctorate.

Several times during his visit, Mandela talked about the deplorable condition of the Black schools that existed under South Africa's White supremacist apartheid government.

The apartheid government kept Mandela in prison for 27 years because of his political activism in favor of Black rights. He was finally freed in 1990 and became the first president elected after apartheid was dismantled in South Africa. He served from 1994 until his retirement last year.

During Mandela's visit, one of Louisiana's best-known symbols of White supremacy showed up to protest at a special fund-raising dinner where Southern University and predominantly White Louisiana State University both presented the icon with honorary doctorate degrees.

David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1991, claimed that Mandela was a communist and a terrorist who didn't deserve to be honored.

"It's like giving Timothy McVeigh an honorary doctorate," Duke said, referring to man convicted of bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City. The protest by Duke and his handful of followers lasted only about 10 minutes, and the protesters left quietly after hotel security ordered them off of the property. Most of the 1,300 people attending the dinner weren't even aware of Duke's presence.

"Maybe they should have let him (Duke) inside -- maybe he would have learned something," Southern University Police Chief Reginald Gaines said later. …

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