LITTLE ROCK — Photographs commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation along with a re-creation of the former South African president’s prison cell and memorabilia from former President Bill Clinton highlight a temporary exhibit at Clinton’s library in Little Rock.
Clinton opened the exhibit while visiting Little Rock to mark the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of the city’s Central High School. He called “Mandela: The Journey to Ubuntu” a must-see.
“Look at the art. Look at Mandela’s life. Look at all the people who are trying to live by that in Africa today, especially young people, and I think you will leave these exhibits more hopeful than you entered them,” Clinton said.
Matthew Willman photographed Mandela in his final years and his work is central to the collection presented by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati. Visitors can enter a replica of the 8-foot-by-7-foot prison cell where Mandela was held for 18 of the 27 years he was held as a political prisoner in a country he later ran. A padded mat lay on the floor; the cell door closes.
“We all generally know he was a great man who was confined for 27 years and came out and instead of being hateful he invited his jailers to his inauguration,” Clinton said. “He lived by the spirit of what is in the Zulu language called ‘Ubuntu.’ It means in English ‘I am because you are.’ We like to think we exist separate from one another but we don’t.”
The exhibit closes Feb. 19. A companion exhibit, “Art of Africa: One Continent, Limitless Vision,” includes artifacts Clinton received during his presidency — including fabrics, masks and wood carvings.
“The African gifts have always been the heart and soul of this collection. Along with the head of state gifts, the gifts from the African people will move and will fill you with awe,” Clinton Library Director Terri Garner said at the dedication last month.
Clinton and Mandela met before either one was elected president — Clinton in 1992 and Mandela in 1994. Clinton said he learned from Mandela to not hold onto anger despite the challenges he faced in office. One letter on display includes Mandela thanking Clinton for visiting South Africa in 1998 — written the day after a federal judge tossed out a sexual harassment lawsuit against the sitting president.
“… we could not but feel great joy at the ruling …,” Mandela wrote.
Clinton recalled Mandela’s support last month, “I am grateful that he defended me when I was under fire and admonished me not to be angry.”
IF YOU GO
CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL CENTER: Located in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Adults 18-61, $10. Adults 62-up, college students and retired military, $8. Youth 6-17, $6. Active military and children 0-5, free. Free admission days are President’s Day, Independence Day, the Saturday before Clinton’s Aug. 19 birthday, the Saturday before the Nov. 18 anniversary of the library’s opening. Free to all active and retired military on Veterans Day.
GETTING THERE: Daily flights to Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, which is 4 miles away. About 140 miles from Memphis, Tennessee, and 300 miles from Dallas.