Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter

December 10, 2013 Archive Insight

Reflecting upon Nelson Mandela’s death on December 5, journalist and former news anchor Dan Rather remarked, “Mandela’s legacy is on a line with those of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King—both of whom inspired him...”

The Henry Ford owns important historical objects that convey meaning and provide relevance for this line of courageous freedom fighters.

Mahatma Gandhi—champion for Indian nationalism in British-ruled India—gave Henry Ford this spinning wheel in 1941. Gandhi’s gift represented a commitment to world peace that he and Ford shared. Mandela often called Gandhi a role model.

Folding portable spinning wheel used by Mahatma M. K. Gandhi. (Object ID: 42.142.1)

Mandela acknowledged others in the long struggle for human rights. He once said, “Before King there was Rosa Parks. She inspired us…to be fearless when facing oppressors.” Mandela claimed that Rosa Parks’ courageous act sustained him while in prison. He was overjoyed to meet her in 1990, soon after his release from prison. The bus in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955 to a white man represents a decisive moment in the American Civil Rights movement.

Rosa Parks Bus (Object ID: 2001.154.1).

President Obama at Henry Ford MuseumIn noting Mandela’s passing, President Obama recounted that his first experience in political activism was a protest against apartheid, and Mandela became a personal inspiration to him. Obama reflected, “Never discount the difference that one person can make.” Such perspective may have been present as he sat on the Rosa Parks bus during a 2012 visit to Henry Ford Museum.

With humility and respect for these extraordinary leaders, we hope that these objects and stories can both remind us of all that Mandela stood for and help contribute to ongoing conversations about social justice in our country and the world.

Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford. Photo by Ted Eytan.

Civil Rights

Facebook Comments