Maya Angelou remembers Nelson Mandela


Angelou knew Mandela before he was president. They met in Egypt when she was married to a South African freedom fighter. It was then, nearly half a century ago, the two formed an unlikely friendship.

"The most wonderful thing I learned about Nelson Mandela 50 years ago is that he was very kind," said Angelou.

Angelou can't help but smile when she remembers Mandela. He and her husband were both freedom fighters and members of rival groups.

"They could shout at each other, but Mr. Mandela never shouted," said Angelou.

Angelou says he was patient and even funny.

"He had a wonderful sense of humor too," she said. "I think few people knew that."

Most of all, Angelou says Mandela was generous with compliments, and able to get along with everyone from the varying groups of political opponents to the country's apartheid regime to Angelou's house staff.

"He would have something kind to say about everybody," said Angelou. "To the housekeeper, he'd say, 'Oh, I like your shoes,' or to the gardener he'd say, 'Oh, that's a very nice cap.'"

Over the years, Angelou struck up a friendship with Mandela's wife, Winnie.

Even after his imprisonment, Angelou kept in touch and attended Mandela's inauguration as South Africa's first black president.

"And I was so please to see that he invited all the white apartheid guards who had guarded him for 27 years in prison," said Angelou.

However, perhaps it was his ability to forgive that touched Angelou the most.

"That's what he's taught us, the world -- how to be forgiving," said Angelou. "The truth is Nelson Mandela was a teacher, and he taught us all. He loved us."

The U.S. Department of State released a video Friday of Angelou reciting a new poem called "His Day is Done." In it she mourns Mandela's death and praises him as a modern Gideon. In one of the passages she marvels at his endurance of racism and imprisonment.

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