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Senator Barack Obama greets Mr Nelson Mandela at launch of Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks exhibition

July 19, 2008

Qunu – The Nelson Mandela Museum today launched a remarkable exhibition in Nelson Mandela’s home village of Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

The inspiration for Dear Mr. Mandela…Dear Mrs Parks: Children’s Letters, Global Lessons came from the hundreds of children around the world who wrote letters to Nelson Mandela and the late Rosa Parks, both internationally renowned for their work in human rights. The letters reveal why children revere Mandela and Parks and also highlight young people’s desires for guidance and understanding about life.

Dear Mr Mandela…Dear Mrs Parks highlights Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks’ devotion to freedom, democracy and emancipation.

“The exhibition raises greater public understanding of the parallels in the struggles for equality and justice in the United States and South Africa through the letters of children,” said Professor Kader Asmal, chairman of the Nelson Mandela Museum Council, who opened the exhibition.

The launch featured exclusive televised messages from Nelson Mandela himself, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and US presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama who said it was an “extraordinary privilege” to take part in the birthday celebration.

“When I was in college, there was one issue which moved me, for the very first time in my life, to become politically active and play a small leadership role in my community,” Obama said.

“The issue was apartheid and as a young college student I became involved in the divestment movement in the United States. I remember meeting with a group of ANC leaders and hearing of their struggles and their leader, Nelson Mandela,” he said.

Rosa Parks gave impetus to the Civil Rights Movement in the US when famously refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white man in 1955 – the same year that representatives of the people of South Africa gathered to formulate the Freedom Charter in Kliptown, Johannesburg.

Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela shared many values and goals, and both cared deeply about youth. Mandela met Parks in Detroit, Michigan, in 1990 when Mr Mandela toured the United States after his release from prison.

The exhibition was developed when the Michigan State University Museum and the Nelson Mandela Museum were awarded one of the first four grants from a new programme of the American Association of Museums, Washington, DC, and the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, designed to strengthen connections between people in the US and abroad through museum-based exchanges.

“The exhibit encourages visitors – especially youth — to understand and be tolerant of diverse cultures and traditions, become aware of the ongoing struggle for human rights around the world, and recognise ways to honour individuals in their own families and communities who–like Mandela and Parks–have contributed, in large and small ways, to making a better world,” notes MSU Museum director C. Kurt Dewhurst, one of the exhibition’s organisers.

A replica of the exhibition will open in the United States in December. The exhibition will travel from the Nelson Mandela Museum in Qunu to other South African sites.

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