When Nelson Mandela accepted the Liberty Medal

Editor’s note: This story first ran on July 4, 2013, Mandela died on Thursday in South Africa at the age of 95.

Nelson Mandela received the Liberty Medal on July 4, 1993 along with F. W. de Klerk at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, in a ceremony hosted by President Bill Clinton. Here’s a look back at the historical significance of the moment.

mandela320The Liberty Medal was established in 1988 to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, and it is awarded annually to men and women of courage and conviction who strive to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the globe. (The medal was first administered by the National Constitution Center in 2006.)

The joint appearance by Mandela and de Klerk in 1993 came with controversy, as some local leaders didn’t attend the ceremony because of de Klerk’s presence. And after the ceremony, Mandela and de Klerk talked politics at a reception as South Africa was heading towards open elections.

At Independence Hall, President Clinton acknowledged the struggle and progress in South Africa.

“My fellow Americans, on this Fourth of July, look at these two men who are making history. Cynicism is a luxury the American people cannot afford,” said Clinton under a blazing sun.

“Here they stand together, a head of state and a former political prisoner,” Clinton said. “In their common endeavors, they are working together to liberate all South Africans.”

“The Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” Mandela said in accepting the award. “I must work.”

Link: Read full speech

“Let The Liberty Medal, which we are humbled to receive from the President of the United States, serve as the lodestar which guides us, as South Africans, as we march to freedom.
Let it be our pledge to you that we shall seize on the eternal principles of justice, liberty and peace and set an example in their defense,” he added.

“Let it be the seal of an unbreakable treaty of friendship between our people which it will be durable. Because it responded to a clarion call which Frederick Douglass made. Because it respected the memory of those who have perished through the ages, in the quest for liberty. Because it pays homage to those whose sacrifices have enabled us as South Africans to say that freedom is in sight!”

Shortly after the Liberty Medal ceremony, Mandela and de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway that October.

In 1994, Mandela became South Africa’s first black President.

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