Illinois Reacts to Nelson Mandela's Death

Thursday, Dec 5, 2013  |  Updated 6:46 PM CDT
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Former Mayor Richard Daley remembers Mandela's visit to Chicago in 1993.  MaryAnn Ahern reports.

Former Mayor Richard Daley remembers Mandela's visit to Chicago in 1993. MaryAnn Ahern reports.

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Illinois leaders are taking time to mourn the death of Nelson Mandela.

South Africa’s iconic former president whose lifelong struggle against apartheid helped break the country’s system of racial discrimination, died Thursday at the age of 95.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says he was blessed to have known Mandela, calling him a "transformer and fearless leader" who "chose reconciliation over retribution."

Jackson was in Capetown in 1990 when Mandela was released from prison after 27 years -— a moment he described as "filled with great joy."

Three years later, Mandela visited Chicago and was honored during a community event at Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Jackson says Mandela took the world to great heights when he was released from prison. The civil rights leader says that with his death, Mandela takes the world to great depths of grief.

Jackson says Rainbow PUSH will honor Mandela again during its weekly service on Saturday.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says he feels honored to have met Mandela. He says Mandela had courage and commitment coupled with "a caring and forgiving heart."

Former congressman Mel Reynolds is in Zimbabwe, and will be heading to South Africa for Mandela's funeral. Reynolds got to know Mandela well during his 1993 Chicago visit, taking early-morning walks with him along the lakefront every day for three days.

"Mandela was a calming force, he was the leader that was able to bring people together and today south Africa is a place where they're trying to understand each other better, and it's a much better place than it was," Reynolds said. Here's what others are saying about Mandela's passing:

"Nelson Mandela was without question one of the greatest men who ever lived. There can be no doubt that his undying courage and passionate determination to right the wrongs of a nation torn by inequality will be an example for generations to come. Yet he was one of the most humble men I've ever met. Maggie and I were blessed with the opportunity to spend a good deal of time with him when he visited Chicago. He was incredibly patient with the very long lines of people wanting just to shake his hand. He greeted them warmly and really listened as they talked no matter how long. He clearly cared deeply about all people… The world has lost a hero to humanity." -- former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley

"Few 20th century figures changed the world as much as Nelson Mandela. Despite 27 years behind bars as a political prisoner, Mandela never lost his optimism, his resolve or his generous heart ... We join the people of South Africa and the world in mourning this great loss. The vision and spirit of Nelson Mandela live on." -- Gov. Pat Quinn

"One of the highlights of my life was being able to be at the forefront of organizing Mandela's visit to Chicago after his release from prison. Also, years later Mandela invited myself, my wife Carolyn, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and others to his home in South Africa. We are forever grateful to South Africa for sharing the warmth and glow of their country's leader with all of us. God bless Nelson Mandela." -- Rep. Bobby Rush

"My wife Amy and I arrived in South Africa on our honeymoon in 1994 just a few months after Nelson Mandela took the oath and became President of what he called "a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world." I will never forget the sense of possibility and promise that he sparked in the people of South Africa, and as Amy and I were starting a new life together, we felt it was fitting to be in a country as it began a new life of its own ... It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to this great peacemaker who now rests in peace, and say thank you for a life well lived." -- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

"Twenty-five years ago, amid the struggle against Apartheid, I volunteered as a high school teacher in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was still in prison, and black South Africans were still denied the right to vote. I taught English, math, history and science to my students, but I knew my true work was in educating the next generation of black South African women to be ready to lead in a new South Africa. Mandela's unrelenting strength and courage made this dream a reality for my students and their families." -- Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan

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