Local residents react to Nelson Mandela’s death

PARKERSBURG – The death of former South African President Nelson Mandela weighed heavy on the hearts of local residents Thursday evening.

“Nelson was a tremendous individual who possessed great strength, great humility, and was respected around the world for his struggle to end apartheid,” said Bob Cordell, a retired professor at West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

“I know that every one of my geography students will remember him because I always showed the ‘Nelson Mandela Story’ in my classes,” Cordell said. “I wanted my students to know about this great man.”

Mandela’s passing was announced Thursday afternoon. The leader of the African National Congress spent 27 years in prison for his protests against apartheid and was released in 1990.

Mandela’s sacrifice was a lifelong struggle for equality, Cordell said.

“He was not unlike Martin Luther King Jr,” said Cordell. “He started out in a non-violent way in his struggle.”

Mandela will go down in history in the civil rights movement, said Brenna Call, director of the Vienna Public Library.

“It really is terrible that he died. He did a lot for freedom in general, not just in South Africa,” Call said. “He is every bit as important to his people as our civil rights leaders are to us here in America.”

Mandela after his release from prison was elected the first black president of South Africa.

“Honestly, he never ceased to amaze me,” said Ken Davis, a retired political science teacher at Parkersburg South High School. “Twenty-seven years is a long time to be incarcerated, but he stepped out of his cell and picked up right where he left off without missing a beat.”

Mandela began his fight against apartheid in a peaceful way, Davis said. He only turned to violence when “he was repeatedly ignored,” Davis said.

Much of his time in prison was at hard labor, Davis said.

“The ironic part about his imprisonment was that he lost most of his eyesight while serving hard labor in a limestone quarry in prison,” said Davis. “Even though the sun glinting off the limestone nearly blinded him, he never let it hamper his vision for the future and a united South Africa.”

Mandela brought different factions together, said Michael Branch, a social studies instructor at Parkersburg High School.

“He became a mediator between the different parties in South Africa,” Branch said. “He worked diligently to bring those who were at odds together and to create peace in his nation.

“I’m not certain if anyone else in the world can make the type of sacrifice that Nelson did,” Branch said. “He saw a calling, as our Constitution says, that all men are created equal.”

Mandela fought against the unequal treatment of all people, Branch said.

“And put his life on the line every day to stand up for his beliefs,” he said.