Published: Dec. 6, 2013

Mandela legacy lives on

Contact(s): Kristen Parker Media Communications office: (517) 353-8942 cell: (517) 980-0709

In 1978, Michigan State University became the first major U.S. public university to divest its portfolio of corporations operating in South Africa. At the time, South Africa was plagued by apartheid and MSU leaders refused to support such social injustice.

With that statement, MSU started a national trend of U.S. divesture, which prompted Congress to pass the Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986. Meanwhile, lifelong anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela, who was elected as the first black president of South Africa in 1994, remained jailed.

But supporters of his ideals never gave up the fight. All around the world, especially at MSU, Mandela’s iconic greatness inspired courage.

“Through his vision, courage and humanity, Nelson Mandela was a leader not just for South Africa, but for the world," said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. "Michigan State is honored to have worked in support of his initiatives as part of our long and deep involvement on the continent of Africa. We're particularly proud of our Nelson Mandela Museum-Michigan State University Museum Curatorial Fellowship. As we move forward, we will continue to strive to honor Mandela's legacy in the work we do here in Michigan, in Africa and around the world."

Recognizing Mandela’s unwavering commitment to equality and democracy, MSU awarded Mandela an honorary doctorate of laws in 2008.

Today, MSU’s ties to South Africa remain strong. In fact, MSU recently marked 50-plus years of engagement in Africa.

MSU’s African roots run deep, thanks in large part to Mandela’s leadership:  

  • The MSU Museum and The Graduate School  sponsor The Nelson Mandela Museum-MSU Museum Curatorial Fellowship, which supports graduate student community-engaged research at the museums.
  • In 2010, “Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Mrs. Parks: Children’s Letters, Global Lessons,” an exhibition of children’s letters to the civil rights leaders, made its U.S. debut at the MSU Museum.
  • Nelson Mandela's prison mate, confidante, parliamentary counselor and friend, Ahmed Kathrada, was the subject of a nationally touring exhibition developed by the MSU Museum.
  • MSU helped celebrate the 90th birthday of former South African President Nelson Mandela on July 19, 2008 with a specially designed exhibit opening and the announcement of the curatorial fellowship.  
  • MSU’s African Studies Center is one of the most comprehensive and highly ranked centers about Africa in the United States.
  • The MSU Libraries house one of the nation's largest research collections on Africa.
  • For 20 years, MSU graduate students have completed more Ph.D. dissertations on Africa than those at any other university.
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