Birmingham leaders are reacting to the death of Nelson Mandela.
Mayor William Bell says that despite Mandela's age and declining health, the news of his passing is a surprise. Bell praised Mandela as a unique character of history and called him the George Washington of South Africa.
Bell says he met the civil and human rights icon in Atlanta in 1993.
"I remember him as a person that was willing to make a sacrifice for his conviction that freedom was for everyone," Bell said.
Bell says the courage and dignity Mandela showed after being released from 27 years of imprisonment impacted his life.
"He made a statement to me and others that one of the things that encouraged him during his imprisonment was that if change could come to Birmingham and the U.S. south, then change could come to South Africa," Bell said.
He says meeting Mandela was like touching history.
"His passing reminds us we all have a temporary time on the stage of life, but the impact we make while we are here in this world will last beyond our lifetime," Bell said.
Ahmad Ward, the Director of Education and Exhibitions at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, traveled to South African in 2011 and says he saw firsthand Mandela's lasting legacy.
"The love you can still see there. His face on murals all over the place. I got a chance to go to the Mandela house which was an experience in itself. I went to the Constitutional Hill where he was held in prison," Ward said.
To Ward, Nelson Mandela is a powerful man and a humble leader who created peaceful change.
"I remember the protests against Sun City. I remember what it was like when he we found out he was going to be released, celebrations that took place," Ward said.
Ward says from Mandela's death comes sadness, but also it's a time to celebrate his life.
"He was very instrumental in change, in the way that we look at civil and human rights globally. He is the reason why South Africa didn't explode in the 90s," Ward said.
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