In 1993, Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk won the
Nobel Peace Prizefor their tireless work ending apartheid in South Africa. Mandela had recently spent 27 years behind bars for his political views.
Just a year later, he achieved an enormous victory for racial equality, becoming the first black president of South Africa as well as the first official elected there in multiracial polling.
His inauguration speech became a point of worldwide pride, and people started quoting it — but they got one part wrong.
We’ve all heard the reference:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are weak. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world … As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
But this quote doesn’t appear in any of his three public inauguration speeches, according to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.
“As far as I know, [Mandela] has never used the quote in any of his speeches, and we have catalogued about 1,000 thus far,” Razia Saleh, an archivist at the foundation, said.
In reality, self-help guru Marianne Williamson wrote this passage in her 1989 spiritual best-seller, “A Return To Love.” The last line of the quote misattributed to Mandela — “As we are liberated from our own fear …” — Williamson actually used to end her book. Somehow, the Internet credited two different passages from her to Mandela. She’s even acknowledged the mistake.
“Several years ago, this paragraph from ‘A Return To Love’ began popping up everywhere, attributed to Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural Address. As honored as I would be had President Mandela quoted my words, indeed he did not. I have no idea where that story came from, but I am gratified that the paragraph has come to mean so much to so many people,” Williamson wrote on her website.
Brian Morton puts it best in The New York Times:
“Picture it: Mr. Mandela, newly free after 27 years in prison, using his inaugural platform to inform us that we all have the right to be gorgeous, talented and fabulous, and that thinking so will liberate others,” he wrote.