5 Inspiring Facts You Didn't Know About Nelson Mandela

On July 18, 1918, Nelson Mandela was born in the village of Mvezo in Umtata, then part of South Africa's Cape Province. Here are 5 inspiring facts you probably didn’t know about the man who would go on to become the first black president of South Africa...


He Lived up to His Name Mandela was actually named Rolihlahla, which is a Xhosa word meaning “troublemaker,” but his school teachers had difficulty pronouncing it. On his first day of elementary school, his teacher began calling him by the name Nelson for Horatio Nelson, the British admiral, and it stuck with him his entire life.

He Has Received Many Honors Mandela received more than 695 awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize and the U.S. Congressional Medal. More than 25 schools, universities and educational institutions have been named after Nelson Mandela. At least 19 scholarships and foundations bear his name. He was awarded 115 honorary degrees and more than 95 sculptures and statues have been made of him. His influence can even be seen in Hollywood. In "The Cosby Show," the grandchildren of Cliff and Clair Huxtable, Winnie and Nelson Tibideau, were named after Mandela and his former wife.


He Was on The US Terrorist Watch List Mandela was once considered a criminal in his own country and a communist in the eyes of the United States, where he was placed on a terrorism watch list by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.  In 2008, after Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize, President George W. Bush removed Mandela and the African National Congress from the terrorist list.

He Appeared in a Movie Spike Lee’s film, Malcolm X, released in 1992, includes a cameo appearance by Nelson Mandela. At the very end of the movie, Mandela plays a school teacher reciting a speech by Malcolm X to a room of school children from Soweto. However, Mandela, being a pacifist, refused to say the phrase “by any means necessary,” because he was afraid the South African government would see it as a call to violence. So Lee cut back to footage of Malcolm X to close out the film.

There's a Woodpecker Named After Jim On Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday, he received an unusual present when he was notified that the oldest woodpecker ever discovered had been named after him as Australopicus nelsonmandelai. This prehistoric woodpecker lived during the Pliocene period from three to five million years ago. Its descendants are no longer found in Africa but exist in Eurasia and the Americas today.