President Obama delivered a moving tribute to Nelson Mandela within a half an hour of news spreading around the world of the death of the anti-apartheid leader whose life work and legacy has inspired millions.
“Today, he's gone home - we've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings any of us will spend time with on this earth,” Obama said in remarks from the White House press briefing room Thursday evening. “He no longer belongs to us - he belongs to the ages.”
One of the world's most beloved statesmen, Mandela, spent 27 years in a prison, emerging to negotiate an end to white minority rule in South Africa. He died Thursday at the age of 95.
Referring to his tribal name of Madiba, Obama recalled his journey from a tiny prison cell to the presidency of South Africa, and said he set an example for all of humanity to aspire to.
“Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa – and moved all of us,” he said.
“... His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity must aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives.”
“The fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable,” he continued.
“As he once said, 'I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.' ”
Speaking in extremely personal terms about the impact Mandela's life had on his own life's journey, Obama said his very first political action was a protest against South African apartheid inspired by Mandela.
“I would study his word and his writings,” Obama said. “... I cannot fully imagine my own life without the model that Nelson” provided.
He said he and Michelle extend their deepest sympathy's to the Mandela family and thanked them for “sharing his life with us.”
“We will not seek the likes of Nelson Mandela again,” Obama said. “He made decisions guided by love, not hate ... and showed us the difference one person can make. We will strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.”
Capitol Hill erupted in an outpouring of sympathy and tributes Thursday evening as news of Nelson Mandela's death spread through the marble halls.
"Nelson Mandela was an unrelenting voice for democracy and his long walk to freedom' showed an enduring faith in God and respect for human dignity," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "His perseverance in fighting the apartheid system will continue to inspire future generations.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Mandela "inspired the world with his strength and perseverance, with his message of hope and his embrace of freedom."
"He never allowed resentment to drive him away from the path of reconciliation," she said. "He emerged from prison to set free an entire nation; he shed the bonds of slave labor to reshape the fate of his people."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Mandela a "man whose skillful guidance of South Africa following the end of the apartheid regime made him one of the great statesmen of our time and a global symbol of reconciliation."
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., compared Mandela to Abraham Lincoln, saying both had courage and commitment while exhibiting a "caring and forgiving heart."
"The world is a better place because of the life he lived and hope he encouraged," Durbin said. "I feel honored to have met him.”
Mandela twice addressed a joint meeting of Congress — once in 1990, only months after his release from prison in South Africa, and again in 1994 while serving as he country's president.
During his second address on Capitol Hill, Mandela said the U.S. and other wealthy nations must not turn their backs on the developing world and dedicate themselves to improving all the world’s people.
"We are human together or nothing at all," he said. "Whatever our different complexions, whatever are different racial characteristics, whatever our different gender features, we are, nonetheless, all of us, part of one, indivisible and common humanity."
Read the full obituary here.