‘Mandela: Struggle for Freedom’ at the Illinois Holocaust Museum Honors a Hero’s Fight for Justice and Inspires a New Generation

He was born in South Africa in 1918. He died at the age of 95. And in between, he served 27 years in prison for treason, emancipated his country from white minority rule, and eventually governed as its first Black president.

His name was Nelson Mandela, and he was a revolutionary. 

Illinois Holocaust Museum.

Even seven years after his death in 2013, the world still remembers the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s never ending quest for liberation. One of the greatest human rights activists of the 20th century, Mandela’s legacy will be honored at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center as a special exhibit next year.

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom places the activist at the center of the fight against apartheid. The exhibition will trace the history of apartheid in South Africa, from dramatic features to original artifacts to multimedia presentations, including stories of repression and resilience projected onto the walls.

Apartheid, South Africa. Illinois Holocaust Museum.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Mandela, 1964.

The show will run from February 20 to September 12, 2021. Among the powerful themes and moments the exhibit will touch upon, visitors can experience a replica of the eight-by-seven-foot cell in which Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. This model will allow visitors to see firsthand the dehumanizing conditions of Robben Island, including censored letters, the contents of the cell, and, according to the museum, “a little-known plot to escape.” Additionally, the exhibition will feature a giant armored vehicle that mimics the tanks of the Soweto uprising, and a makeshift secret apartment, replicating the type of space freedom fighters went when forced underground.

Woman in front of hippos. Illinois Holocaust Museum.

Tangentially, the exhibit will also explore the fight for social justice in our world today. The themes of apartheid are very much alive in the 21st century, from the institution to the resistance. Arielle Weininger, Chief Curator of Collections and Exhibitions of the museum says themes of the exhibition include “the role of nonviolent protest, the power of youth, and the indignities of incarceration, making this exhibition both timely and compelling.”

“Nelson Mandela’s impact and voice reached people around the world, and that voice still resonates today,” says museum CEO Susan Abrams. “As we continue to see racism, antisemitism, and hatred on the rise, this exhibition provides visitors with the chance to use Mandela’s lifelong fight for justice as a source of inspiration.”

Virtual group tours are available. Click here to request a virtual group tour.

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Cindy Mei is an intern at Better. Currently in her senior year of college at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Cindy is moved by strong storytelling about personal identity and culture. She is an avid fan of the works of Anthony Bourdain, Alex Kotlowitz and Jenn Fang.

Cindy is a proud alumna and supporter of After School Matters, a non-profit organization that offers arts and leadership classes to Chicago high schoolers. She also encourages support for Think!Chinatown, a New York City based non-profit that fundraises for Chinese businesses in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

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