President Carter calls for Olympics to be moved from Moscow


Year
1980
Month Day
January 20

On January 20, 1980, in a letter to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and a television interview, U.S. President Jimmy Carter proposes that the 1980 Summer Olympics be moved from the planned host city, Moscow, if the Soviet Union failed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan within a month.

“It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is,” Carter declared. He argued that continued aggressive action by the Soviets would endanger athletes and spectators who traveled to Moscow for the games, and declared that if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declined to move the competition, American athletes should boycott the games. Lord Killanin, president of the IOC, reacted quickly to Carter’s statement, saying it was impossible to move the games from Moscow.

After the IOC denied Carter’s request, the USOC later voted to boycott the Moscow games, a decision that Carter announced on March 21, 1980. The boycott devastated the hopes of many U.S. athletes, especially after Carter backed it up with the law, promising to revoke the passports of American athletes who traveled to the games in violation of the boycott. For his part, Killanin called the U.S. boycott a violation of the Olympic charter, pointing out that Moscow had been awarded the games in the mid-1970s as part of a binding contract–one that could only be broken if the Soviets breached their own responsibilities first.

The United States was one of some 60 countries that eventually boycotted the Moscow Olympics, though some countries that didn’t officially send teams took no action against individual athletes who chose to go. Among U.S. allies, Great Britain, Sweden, France and Italy sent teams. The Soviet Union dominated the other 80 participating nations, winning 195 medals (80 gold) in 1980, in one of the most lopsided Olympics ever. Four years later, the Soviets returned the slight with a boycott of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, saying they were worried about the safety of their athletes given the strongly anti-Communist environment that existed in the United States. In an interesting contrast, Communist-led China decided to attend the games for the first time in 32 years, bringing the total number of participating countries to a record high 140.

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U.S. hockey team beats the Soviets in the “Miracle on Ice”


Year
1980
Month Day
February 22

In one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympic history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of college players, defeats the four-time defending gold-medal winning Soviet team at the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. The Soviet squad, previously regarded as the finest in the world, fell to the youthful American team 4-3 before a frenzied crowd of 10,000 spectators. Two days later, the Americans defeated Finland 4-2 to clinch the hockey gold.

The Soviet team had captured the previous four Olympic hockey golds, going back to 1964, and had not lost an Olympic hockey game since 1968. Three days before the Lake Placid Games began, the Soviets routed the U.S. team 10-3 in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Americans looked scrappy, but few blamed them for it–their average age, after all, was only 22, and their team captain, Mike Eruzione, was recruited from the obscurity of the Toledo Blades of the International League.

Few had high hopes for the seventh-seeded U.S. team entering the Olympic tournament, but the team soon silenced its detractors, making it through the opening round of play undefeated, with four victories and one tie, thus advancing to the four-team medal round. The Soviets, however, were seeded No. 1 and as expected went undefeated, with five victories in the first round.

On Friday afternoon, February 22, the American amateurs and the Soviet dream team met before a sold-out crowd at Lake Placid. The Soviets broke through first, with their new young star, Valery Krotov, deflecting a slap shot beyond American goalie Jim Craig’s reach in the first period. Midway through the period, Buzz Schneider, the only American who had previously been an Olympian, answered the Soviet goal with a high shot over the shoulder of Vladislav Tretiak, the Soviet goalie.

The relentless Soviet attack continued as the period progressed, with Sergei Makarov giving his team a 2-1 lead. With just a few seconds left in the first period, American Ken Morrow shot the puck down the ice in desperation. Mark Johnson picked it up and sent it into the Soviet goal with one second remaining. After a brief Soviet protest, the goal was deemed good, and the game was tied.

In the second period, the irritated Soviets came out with a new goalie, Vladimir Myshkin, and turned up the attack. The Soviets dominated play in the second period, outshooting the United States 12-2, and taking a 3-2 lead with a goal by Alesandr Maltsev just over two minutes into the period. If not for several remarkable saves by Jim Craig, the Soviet lead would surely have been higher than 3-2 as the third and final 20-minute period began.

Nearly nine minutes into the period, Johnson took advantage of a Soviet penalty and knocked home a wild shot by David Silk to tie the contest again at 3-3. About a minute and a half later, Mike Eruzione, whose last name means “eruption” in Italian, picked up a loose puck in the Soviet zone and slammed it past Myshkin with a 25-foot wrist shot. For the first time in the game, the Americans had the lead, and the crowd erupted in celebration.

There were still 10 minutes of play to go, but the Americans held on, with Craig making a few more fabulous saves. With five seconds remaining, the Americans finally managed to get the puck out of their zone, and the crowd began counting down the final seconds. When the final horn sounded, the players, coaches, and team officials poured onto the ice in raucous celebration. The Soviet players, as awestruck as everyone else, waited patiently to shake their opponents’ hands.

The so-called Miracle on Ice was more than just an Olympic upset; to many Americans, it was an ideological victory in the Cold War as meaningful as the Berlin Airlift or the Apollo moon landing. The upset came at an auspicious time: President Jimmy Carter had just announced that the United States was going to boycott the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Americans, faced with a major recession and the Iran hostage crisis, were in dire need of something to celebrate. After the game, President Carter called the players to congratulate them, and millions of Americans spent that Friday night in revelry over the triumph of “our boys” over the Russian pros.

As the U.S. team demonstrated in their victory over Finland two days later, they weren’t your run-of-the-mill amateur squad. Three-quarters of the squad were top college players who were on their way to the National Hockey League (NHL), and coach Herb Brooks had trained the team long and hard in a manner that would have made the most authoritative Soviet coach proud. The 1980 U.S. hockey team was probably the best-conditioned American Olympic hockey team of all time–the result of countless hours running skating exercises in preparation for Lake Placid. In their play, the U.S. players adopted passing techniques developed by the Soviets for the larger international hockey rinks, while preserving the rough checking style that was known to throw the Soviets off-guard. It was these factors, combined with an exceptional afternoon of play by Craig, Johnson, Eruzione, and others, that resulted in the miracle at Lake Placid.

This improbable victory was later memorialized in a 2004 film, Miracle, starring Kurt Russell.

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Da Vinci notebook sells for over $5M


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Year
1980
Month Day
December 12

On December 12, 1980, American oil tycoon Armand Hammer pays $5,126,000 at auction for a notebook containing writings by the legendary artist Leonardo da Vinci.

The manuscript, written around 1508, was one of some 30 similar books da Vinci produced during his lifetime on a variety of subjects. It contained 72 loose pages featuring some 300 notes and detailed drawings, all relating to the common theme of water and how it moved. Experts have said that da Vinci drew on it to paint the background of his masterwork, the Mona Lisa. The text, written in brown ink and chalk, read from right to left, an example of da Vinci’s favored mirror-writing technique. The painter Giuseppi Ghezzi discovered the notebook in 1690 in a chest of papers belonging to Guglielmo della Porto, a 16th-century Milanese sculptor who had studied Leonardo’s work. In 1717, Thomas Coke, the first earl of Leicester, bought the manuscript and installed it among his impressive collection of art at his family estate in England.

More than two centuries later, the notebook–by now known as the Leicester Codex–showed up on the auction block at Christie’s in London when the current Lord Coke was forced to sell it to cover inheritance taxes on the estate and art collection. In the days before the sale, art experts and the press speculated that the notebook would go for $7 to $20 million. In fact, the bidding started at $1.4 million and lasted less than two minutes, as Hammer and at least two or three other bidders competed to raise the price $100,000 at a time. The $5.12 million price tag was the highest ever paid for a manuscript at that time; a copy of the legendary Gutenberg Bible had gone for only $2 million in 1978. “I’m very happy with the price. I expected to pay more,” Hammer said later. “There is no work of art in the world I wanted more than this.” Lord Coke, on the other hand, was only “reasonably happy” with the sale; he claimed the proceeds would not be sufficient to cover the taxes he owed.

Hammer, the president of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, renamed his prize the Hammer Codex and added it to his valuable collection of art. When Hammer died in 1990, he left the notebook and other works to the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Several years later, the museum offered the manuscript for sale, claiming it was forced to take this action to cover legal costs incurred when the niece and sole heir of Hammer’s late wife, Frances, sued the estate claiming Hammer had cheated Frances out of her rightful share of his fortune. On November 11, 1994, the Hammer Codex was sold to an anonymous bidder–soon identified as Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft–at a New York auction for a new record high price of $30.8 million. Gates restored the title of Leicester Codex and has since loaned the manuscript to a number of museums for public display.

READ MORE: How Leonardo da Vinci’s Surprising Family Roots May Have Influenced His Work

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Government gives Chrysler $1.5 billion loan

Year
1980
Month Day
May 10

On May 10, 1980, United States Secretary of the Treasury G. William Miller announces the approval of nearly $1.5 billion dollars in federal loan guarantees for the nearly bankrupt Chrysler Corporation. At the time, it was the largest rescue package ever granted by the U.S. government to an American corporation.

Founded as the Maxwell Motor Company Inc. in 1913, Chrysler grew into the Chrysler Corporation after 1925, when Walter P. Chrysler took over control of the company. Its purchase of Dodge Brothers in 1928 announced Chrysler’s arrival as a major force in the U.S. automotive industry. After decades of expansion, the company’s success came to a screeching halt after the 1973 oil crisis led to skyrocketing gas costs and new government standards for emissions. The combination of these factors caused problems for the Big Three of American automakers–Ford, General Motors and Chrysler–as the trend towards so-called “muscle cars” in the 1960s had led them to produce vehicles with powerful, gas-guzzling engines. (Chrysler’s famous Hemi engine, used in cars like the Dodge Charger and Challenger and the Plymouth RoadRunner, was one of the most prominent examples.)

In an attempt to produce lighter, more efficient vehicles, Chrysler bought shares in the Japanese motor company Mitsubishi, which began producing subcompact cars in America under the Chrysler name in 1970. By the end of the decade, however, Chrysler was in dire financial straits. Lee Iacocca, the former Ford executive who became the company’s president and chairman of the board in 1978, appealed for a federal loan, banking on the fact that the government wouldn’t allow the country’s No. 3 automaker to declare bankruptcy in an already depressed economy. His gamble paid off: In explaining the decision to grant the loans to Chrysler, Treasury Secretary Miller stated that the government “recognizes that there is a public interest in sustaining [its] jobs and maintaining a strong and competitive national automotive industry.”

The terms of the $1.5 billion in loans required Chrysler to raise another $2 billion on its own, which Iacocca did by streamlining operations and persuading union leaders to accept some layoffs and wage cuts, among other measures. His high-profile personal leadership, combined with a focus on more fuel-efficient vehicles, steered Chrysler to one of the most famous corporate comebacks in recent history: In 1984, a year after paying off its government loans ahead of schedule, the company posted record profits of some $2.4 billion. Twenty-five years later, however, plummeting sales and a deepening global financial crisis landed Chrysler in trouble again, and in early 2009 the company received another $4 billion in federal funds. Soon after, under pressure from President Barack Obama’s administration, Chrysler filed for federal bankruptcy protection and entered into a partnership with the Italian automaker Fiat.

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The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” becomes hip-hop’s first Top 40 hit


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Year
1980
Month Day
January 05

Hip hop’s roots as a musical phenomenon are subject to debate, but its roots as a commercial phenomenon are much clearer. They trace back directly to January 5, 1980, when the song “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip hop single ever to reach the Billboard top 40.

Prior to the success of “Rapper’s Delight,” hip hop was little known outside of New York City, and little known even within New York City by those whose orbits were limited to Midtown and Downtown Manhattan. The basic elements of hip hop—MCs rapping, DJs mixing and scratching, B-Boys break-dancing—were all in place by 1979, but you could not walk into a record store in Times Square and buy a hip hop album. Hip hop was something you had to experience live, in clubs and at parties in neighborhoods like the South Bronx and Harlem.

Those were the settings in which founding fathers of hip hop like Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow and DJ Kool Herc were busy making their names while the crowds at Studio 54 danced away the last days of the disco just a few miles to the south. Meanwhile, it was a businesswoman from New Jersey who put the two trends together to give birth to an industry. Her name was Sylvia Robinson, formerly a singer and later the owner of a small record label called All Platinum. After hearing a DJ rapping over records in a Harlem club, she set her son Joey to the task of finding someone who could do the same thing on tape. Joey recruited his friend Big Bank Hank from an Englewood, New Jersey, pizzeria, and Master Gee and Wonder Mike from the surrounding neighborhood. This was on a Friday. Sylvia named the newly formed trio after the Sugar Hill section of Harlem, chose Chic’s disco smash “Good Times” as a backing track and scheduled studio time for the following Monday.

What happened between that Friday and Monday is a subject of some controversy. It involves Big Bank Hank borrowing his lyrics almost wholesale from the notebook of Harlem MC Grandmaster Caz, whose name appears nowhere on the credits or royalty checks for “Rapper’s Delight.” What happened on Monday, however, was straightforward and revolutionary: the making of a record that began, “I said a hip, hop, the hippie, the hippie…” and ended up changing the course of music history.

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Buddy Holly’s glasses, lost since his death in 1959, are found in Mason City, Iowa


Year
1980
Month Day
February 29

When the Beechcraft Bonanza carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper crashed outside Clear Lake, Iowa, in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, it struck the ground with such force that all three passengers were killed instantly, and the plane’s wreckage was strewn across nearly 300 yards of snow-covered cornfields. The death certificate issued by the Cerro Gordo County Coroner noted the clothing Holly was wearing, the presence of a leather suitcase near his body and the following personal effects:

Charles Holley

Cash $193.00 less $11.65 coroner’s fees – $181.35

2 Cuff links, silver 1/2 in. balls having jeweled band

Top portion of ball point pen

Notably missing from the list were Holly’s signature eyeglasses, the most distinctive visual legacy of a man who influenced the sound and style of rock and roll immeasurably. Those famous glasses were presumed lost forever until the announcement on February 29, 1980, that they had resurfaced in Mason City, Iowa.

The glasses in question had the appearance of something government issued, but they were, in fact, carefully chosen as part of Holly’s image—not by Holly himself, but by his Lubbock, Texas, optometrist, Dr. J. Davis Armistead. “Buddy was trying to wear the least conspicuous frames he could find,” wrote Dr. Armistead nearly 40 years after writing Holly’s last prescription. “Personally, I was not happy with the frame styles we had been using. I did not think they contributed anything to a distinct personality that a performer needs.” It was while on vacation in Mexico City that Armistead found exactly the frames that he felt Holly needed. He brought back two pair of the heavy plastic Faiosa frames. “Those heavy black frames achieve exactly what we wanted—they became a distinct part of him.” In fact, they became a part of the basic iconography and spirit of rock and roll. Before Buddy Holly, it would have been impossible to imagine a skinny, knock-kneed kid in an Ivy League suit and thick, heavy glasses being considered “cool.” After Buddy Holly, the look and attitude that would later be called “geek chic” became a completely accepted alternative style for an aspiring rock star to embrace.

So how did the famous glasses re-emerge? In the violence of the crash back in February 1959, they were thrown clear of the other wreckage and buried in snow. They were found, along with the Big Bopper’s watch, that same spring, when the melting snow made them visible again. Though they were handed in immediately to the Cerro Gordo County Sherriff’s office, they sat filed away for the next 21 years in a sealed manila envelope marked “rec’d April 7, 1959.” That envelope was opened by Sheriff Jerry Allen on this day in 1980. The glasses were eventually returned to Holly’s widow.

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“I Will Survive” wins the first—and last—Grammy ever awarded for Best Disco Recording


Year
1980
Month Day
February 27

After watching it utterly dominate the musical landscape of the late 1970s, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave disco their stamp of approval, deciding to give a Grammy award for Best Disco Recording, just as the musical style was preparing to die. The first and final Grammy for Best Disco Recording was awarded on February 27, 1980, to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

On a fundamental business level, there was growing disillusion within the record industry by early 1980 regarding disco’s profit potential. As popular as the music was on the radio and in the clubs, disco had failed to produce many of the kind of dependable, multi-platinum acts that the industry depended on for its biggest profits. It was also hard to ignore the obvious signs of the backlash in the popular culture of the time. One of 1979’s biggest acts, the Knack, was being marketed explicitly as the group that had come to destroy disco. At a Chicago White Sox game the previous July, tens of thousands of marauding disco-haters forced the cancellation and forfeit of a game at Comiskey Park on “Disco Sucks” promotion night. And then there was Ethel Merman’s disco version of “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” a sure sign of the coming apocalypse that the Academy chose to ignore.

The Best Disco Recording category, recognized by the Grammys for the first time on this day in 1980, was summarily eliminated from the following year’s awards.

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Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov arrested in Moscow


Year
1980
Month Day
January 22

In Moscow, Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov, the Soviet physicist who helped build the USSR’s first hydrogen bomb, is arrested after criticizing the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. He was subsequently stripped of his numerous scientific honors and banished to remote Gorky.

Born in Moscow in 1921, Sakharov studied physics at Moscow University and in June 1948 was recruited into the Soviet nuclear weapons program. In 1948, after detonating their first atomic bomb, the Soviets joined the United States in the race to develop the hydrogen bomb, a weapon theorized to be dozens of times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sakharov’s concept of the “Layer Cake” bomb showed some promising results, but in late 1952 the Americans successfully detonated the world’s first “super bomb.” The Soviet team rushed to catch up, and with the aid of Soviet espionage settled on the same winning concept as the Americans–radiation implosion. On November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union successfully detonated its first hydrogen bomb.

Although Sakharov was decorated with numerous Soviet scientific honors for his achievement, the scientist became increasingly concerned with the implications of the terrifying weapon, and he later regretted his responsibility in its creation. In 1957, his concern about the biological hazards of nuclear testing inspired him to write a damning article about the effects of low-level radiation, and he called for the cessation of nuclear tests. The Soviet government kept his criticism quiet until 1969, when an essay Sakharov wrote was smuggled out of the country and published in The New York Times. In the essay, he attacked the arms race and the Soviet political system and called for a “democratic, pluralistic society free of intolerance and dogmatism, a humanitarian society that would care for the Earth and its future.”

Following the publication of his essay, Sakharov was fired from the weapons program and became a vocal advocate of human rights. In 1975, he was the first Soviet to win the Nobel Peace Prize. After he denounced the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Soviet authorities were quick to respond, exiling him to Gorky, where he lived in difficult conditions. In December 1986, Sakharov’s exile ended when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev invited him to return to Moscow. He was subsequently elected to the Congress of People’s Deputies as a democratic reformer and appointed a member of the commission responsible for drafting a new Soviet constitution.

Sakharov died of a heart attack in 1989 at the age of 68.

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Mount St. Helens erupts

Year
1980
Month Day
May 18

At 8:32 a.m. PDT, Mount St. Helens, a volcanic peak in southwestern Washington, suffers a massive eruption, killing 57 people and devastating some 210 square miles of wilderness.

Called Louwala-Clough, or “the Smoking Mountain,” by Native Americans, Mount St. Helens is located in the Cascade Range and stood 9,680 feet before its eruption. The volcano has erupted periodically during the last 4,500 years, and the last active period was between 1831 and 1857. On March 20, 1980, noticeable volcanic activity began again with a series of earth tremors centered on the ground just beneath the north flank of the mountain. These earthquakes escalated, and on March 27 a minor eruption occurred, and Mount St. Helens began emitting steam and ash through its crater and vents.

Small eruptions continued daily, and in April people familiar with the mountain noticed changes to the structure of its north face. A scientific study confirmed that a bulge more than a mile in diameter was moving upward and outward over the high north slope by as much as six feet per day. The bulge was caused by an intrusion of magma below the surface, and authorities began evacuating hundreds of people from the sparsely settled area near the mountain. A few people refused to leave.

On the morning of May 18, Mount St. Helens was shaken by an earthquake of about 5.0 magnitude, and the entire north side of the summit began to slide down the mountain. The giant landslide of rock and ice, one of the largest recorded in history, was followed and overtaken by an enormous explosion of steam and volcanic gases, which surged northward along the ground at high speed. The lateral blast stripped trees from most hill slopes within six miles of the volcano and leveled nearly all vegetation for as far as 12 miles away. Approximately 10 million trees were felled by the blast.

The landslide debris, liquefied by the violent explosion, surged down the mountain at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. The avalanche flooded Spirit Lake and roared down the valley of the Toutle River for a distance of 13 miles, burying the river to an average depth of 150 feet. Mudflows, pyroclastic flows, and floods added to the destruction, destroying roads, bridges, parks, and thousands more acres of forest. Simultaneous with the avalanche, a vertical eruption of gas and ash formed a mushrooming column over the volcano more than 12 miles high. Ash from the eruption fell on Northwest cities and towns like snow and drifted around the globe within two weeks. Fifty-seven people, thousands of animals, and millions of fish were killed by the eruption of Mount St. Helens.

By late in the afternoon of May 18, the eruption subsided, and by early the next day it had essentially ceased. Mount St. Helens’ volcanic cone was completely blasted away and replaced by a horseshoe-shaped crater–the mountain lost 1,700 feet from the eruption. The volcano produced five smaller explosive eruptions during the summer and fall of 1980 and remains active today. In 1982, Congress made Mount St. Helens a protected research area.

Mount St. Helens became active again in 2004. On March 8, 2005, a 36,000-foot plume of steam and ash was expelled from the mountain, accompanied by a minor earthquake. Though a new dome has been growing steadily near the top of the peak and small earthquakes are frequent, scientists do not expect a repeat of the 1980 catastrophe anytime soon.

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Nelson Mandela writes from prison

Year
1980
Month Day
June 10

In South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) makes public a statement by Nelson Mandela, the long imprisoned leader of the anti-apartheid movement. The message, smuggled out of Robben Island prison under great risk, read, “UNITE! MOBILISE! FIGHT ON! BETWEEN THE ANVIL OF UNITED MASS ACTION AND THE HAMMER OF THE ARMED STRUGGLE WE SHALL CRUSH APARTHEID!”

Mandela, born in 1918, was the son of the chief of the Xhosa-speaking Tembu people. Instead of succeeding his father as chief, Mandela went to university and became a lawyer. In 1944, he joined the ANC, a black political organization dedicated to winning rights for the black majority in white-ruled South Africa. In 1948, the racist National Party came to power, and apartheid—South Africa’s institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation—became official government policy. With the loss of black rights under apartheid, black enrollment in the ANC rapidly grew. Mandela became one of the ANC’s leaders and in 1952 was made deputy national president of the ANC. He organized nonviolent strikes, boycotts, marches, and other acts of civil disobedience.

READ MORE: Nelson Mandela: His Written Legacy 

After the massacre of peaceful black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Mandela helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in acts of sabotage against the white minority government. He was tried for and acquitted of treason in 1961 but in 1962 was arrested again for illegally leaving the country. Convicted and sentenced to five years at Robben Island Prison, he was put on trial again in 1963 with seven other ANC members who were arrested at Rivonia in possession of a store of weapons. Charged with sabotage, treason, and violent conspiracy, Mandela admitted to many of the charges against him and eloquently defended his militant activities during the trial. On June 12, 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail at the brutal Robben Island prison. He was confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing and was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. Once a year, he was allowed to meet with a visitor for 30 minutes, and once every six months he could write and receive a letter. At first, he was only allowed to exchange letters with his family, and these letters were read and censored by prison officials. Later he was allowed to write to friends and associates, but any writing of a political nature was forbidden. With the help of fellow prisoners and his visitors, Mandela smuggled out statements and letters to spark the continuing anti-apartheid movement. A 500-page autobiography, manually miniaturized into 50 pages, was smuggled out by a departing prisoner in 1976. The original manuscript of the autobiography, buried in a garden, was discovered by the prison warden soon after. As punishment, Mandela and three others lost their study rights for four years.

Through it all, Mandela’s resolve remained unbroken, and he led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that coerced South African officials into drastically improving conditions on Robben Island. In 1982, he was moved to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland, and in 1988 to a cottage, where he lived under house arrest.

In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became South African president and set about dismantling apartheid. De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, suspended executions, and on February 11, 1990, ordered the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years as a political prisoner. Mandela subsequently led the ANC in its negotiations with the minority government for an end to apartheid and the establishment of a multiracial government. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 26, 1994, more than 22 million South Africans turned out to cast ballots in the country’s first-ever multiracial parliamentary elections. An overwhelming majority chose Mandela and the ANC to lead the country, and a “national unity” coalition was formed with de Klerk’s National Party and the Zulus’ Inkatha Freedom Party. On May 10, Mandela was sworn in as the first black president of South Africa.

As president, Mandela established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations under apartheid and introduced numerous initiatives designed to improve the living standards of South Africa’s black population. In 1996, he presided over the enactment of a new South African constitution. Mandela retired from politics in June 1999 at the age of 80. He was succeeded as president by Thabo Mbeki of the ANC. Mandela, admired by people around the world, continued to advocate for human rights and peace until his death in December 2013.

READ MORE: The Harsh Reality of Life Under Apartheid in South Africa 

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