Skip to main content

Honoring Mandela: Eloquent Display at Herskovits Library

Northwestern library is home to world’s largest collection of Africana materials

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A pair of earrings crafted from a photo of Nelson Mandela, a copy of one of the beloved South African leader’s most passionate speeches and a video of a jubilant, dancing Mandela are all part of a commemorative display at Northwestern University’s Herskovits Library of African Studies through Jan. 3.

The small exhibit at the Herskovits Library -- home to the largest collection of Africana materials in the world -- was created by library staffers to honor Mandela. Curator David Easterbrook says the display represents a “tiny, tiny fraction” of the library’s holdings on South Africa, apartheid and Mandela. He talked with University Library communications specialist Nina Barrett about it and the Herskovits collection.

How extensive is the collection of Mandela-related material?

We have no distinct “Mandela Collection” per se but we do have an enormous amount of material relating to Mandela. Much of it dates back to the 1960s, when Gwendolyn Carter -- a personal friend of Mandela -- became the second director of Northwestern’s Program of African Studies. She did research on the African National Congress and the struggle for freedom in South Africa. When she retired in the 1970s, Carter endowed a fund that we’ve been using ever since to build an extraordinary collection of South Africa materials. 

What’s in that collection?

As with so much of the material in the Herskovits Library, a lot is in the form of ephemera, including brochures, buttons, T-shirts, posters, textiles and comic books. All of these are very typical vehicles for carrying on political dialogue in Africa. There are also more than 100 Mandela-related videos, DVDs, movies, newsreels and documentaries. One of the greatest features is a comprehensive collection of political manifestos from all of the different political parties in the landmark 1994 election that made Mandela the nation’s president. Our collection is believed to be more complete than anything assembled in South Africa itself.

How would you describe the display and the items you’ve chosen to display to celebrate Mandela?

It’s a small but eloquent display. We’ve included a wonderful photo of the young Nelson and Winnie Mandela at the time of their wedding in 1958. And there’s an undated photo of Mandela as an elder statesman that probably was taken in the early 2000s. We also have the published edition of the famous speech Mandela gave at his prison sentencing in 1964. In it, Mandela said democratic freedom “is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Though very different in tone, one of our favorite items is a Mandela wristwatch commemorating Mandela’s inauguration as president on May 10, 1994. There’s a picture of him on the face of the watch, and one of his hands actually moves back and forth in a tick-tock motion so Mandela appears to wave at the wearer whenever he or she checks the time.

Can you talk about some of the video that’s on exhibit?

Esmeralda Kale, our bibliographer of Africana currently in South Africa, selected some wonderful clips. They show a playful side of Mandela, including him dancing with South African pop star Johnny Clegg, receiving a soccer jersey from famed Brazilian player Pele and celebrating the Rugby World Cup in 1995. She chose images that showed Mandela the way we want to remember him: living a joyous life.

The Mandela display includes a rotating selection of books available for browsing or that can be checked out during regular Herskovits Library hours, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The African studies library is on the fifth floor of Northwestern’s main library at 1970 Campus Drive, Evanston. Check the online schedule for public hours and special holiday hours.

The Herskovits Library not only serves Northwestern and its renowned Program of African Studies but also is used by scholars around the world. Established in 1954, it includes materials covering a wide variety of literary genres and subject matter, ranging from art, history, folklore, poetry, music and religion to communications, management, textbooks and cooking.

Editor's Picks

Back to top