Nelson Mandela was born in Umtata, South Africa on July 18, 1918. His father was the chieftain of their tribe and, when he died, Nelson was made his successor. He studied at Methodist schools before going to the Fort Hare University College in 1938. However, he was expelled in 1940 for being in a student boycott and protest.
Nelson traveled to Johannesburg and was able to get an apprenticeship in a law firm while he worked towards a law degree. In 1942, he joined the African National Congress, which gave African people a united voice. Nelson worked towards replacing the organization's conservative views with a nationalist ideology.
In 1947, the ANC Youth League was created, which extensively protested the apartheid policies used by the government. In 1952, Nelson led a campaign of defiance, utilizing civil disobediance to protest laws that were simply not justified. In 1953, Nelson was made the president of the Transvaal ANC and he opened a law practice with the chairman of the ANC, Oliver Tambo.
The new law partners started working against unfair government laws, despite attempts to stop their practice. They most often focused on segregation laws and the exploitation of African cheap labor. In 1956, Nelson was charged with treason, but was able to have the charges dropped in 1961 after a long trial.
In 1960, Nelson was made the chairman of the ANC, but the organization was banned from South Africa after the Sharpeville Massacre. Radical members of the organization formed a militant faction called "Spear of the Nation", with Nelson as the leader.
In 1962, he was put in jail for encouraging striking and also charged with governmental sabotage. His famous defense was that his actions resulted from "a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites." The court did not take his defense well and sentenced him to life in prison.
Nelson refused to appeal his sentence and he became a martyr of sorts for members of the resistance. The government offered him release if he renounced his beliefs about the government being oppressive, but he refused. After a lot of tension was placed on the government, he was released on February 11, 1990, nearly thirty years later.
Now free, Nelson was reelected as president of the ANC. They pushed for democracy in South Africa, finally getting their wish in 1994. Democratic elections were held and Nelson was elected president of South Africa, marking the victory of a half-century struggle. He served as the president of the nation before he retired from the position and public life in June of 1999.