1. He lived up to his name
2. He had a cameo in a Spike Lee film
3. There’s a woodpecker named after him
4. He married a first lady
5. He was a master of disguise
When Mandela was eluding authorities during his fight against apartheid, he disguised himself in various ways, including as a chauffeur. The press nicknamed him “the Black Pimpernel” because of his police evasion tactics. “I became a creature of the night. I would keep to my hideout during the day, and would emerge to do my work when it became dark,” he says in his biography, “Long Walk to Freedom.”
6. A bloody sport intrigued him
Besides politics, Mandela’s other passion was boxing. “I did not like the violence of boxing. I was more interested in the science of it – how you move your body to protect yourself, how you use a plan to attack and retreat, and how you pace yourself through a fight,” he says in his biography.
7. His favorite dish is probably not yours
8. He quit his day job
He studied law at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and opened the nation’s first Black law firm in the city in 1952.
9. He was on the US terror watch list
10. He drew his inspiration from a poem
While he was in prison, Mandela would read William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” to fellow prisoners. The poem, about never giving up, resonated with Mandela for its lines “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” You may know it from the movie by the same name starring Morgan Freeman as Mandela.