Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 | 4:41 p.m.
In his decades spent fighting for freedom and equality, Nelson Mandela inspired and challenged the world to stand up for others. As word of Mandela's death spread, current and former presidents, athletes and entertainers, and people around the world spoke out about the life and legacy of the former South African leader.
Some like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter had personal connections with Mandela. The two worked closely through a group of global leaders — The Elders — that Mandela formed in 2007 to promote human rights. Others only knew Mandela from afar but shared how they drew strength from his strength and looked to live his message of continuing the struggle against social injustice and for human rights.
Carter, who promotes human rights in working through the Atlanta-based Carter Center promotes human rights, said the people of South Africa and human rights advocates around the world had lost a great leader.
"His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide, and because of him, South Africa is today one of the world's leading democracies," Carter said.
In Washington, the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama, declared that he world has lost an influential, courageous and 'profoundly good' man with the death of the anti-apartheid icon.
Obama said Mandela "no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages."
Prince William and his wife, Kate, were attending the London film premiere of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" when the news broke.
"We were just reminded of what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was and my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family right now," William said upon exiting the film.
Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair praised Nelson Mandela as a "unique political figure at a unique moment" in history.
"Through his leadership, he guided the world into a new era of politics in which black and white, developing and developed, north and south, despite all the huge differences in wealth and opportunity, stood for the first time together on equal terms," Blair said. "Through his dignity, grace and the quality of his forgiveness, he made racism everywhere not just immoral but stupid; something not only to be disagreed with, but to be despised. In its place he put the inalienable right of all humankind to be free and to be equal."
In Haiti, a Caribbean nation that became the world's first black republic in 1804 through a successful slave revolt, Mandela symbolized the struggle for black equality.
"Mandela is not only the father of democracy in South Africa, but is also a symbol of democracy," said Haitian President Michel Martelly. "And like any symbol, he is not dead. He is present in all of us and guides us by his lifestyle, his courage and faith in the true struggle for equality."
In Louisville, Ky., U.S. boxing great Muhammad Ali recalled Mandela as a symbol of forgiveness who overcame racial injustice and inspired others to "reach for what appeared to be impossible." The two met twice and exhibits at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville include a photograph of the men together, their hands clenched into fists as if they're boxing.
"He made us realize, we are our brother's keeper and that our brothers come in all colors. What I will remember most about Mr. Mandela is that he was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge," Ali said.
Actor Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Nelson Madela in 2009's "Invictus", said the world had lost one of the true giants of modern history.
"Today the world lost one of the true giants of the past century. Nelson Mandela was a man of incomparable honor, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve — a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty, freedom and the dignity of humankind. As we remember his triumphs, let us, in his memory, not just reflect on how far we've come, but on how far we have to go. Mandela may no longer be with us, but his journey continues on with me and with all of us."