Nelson Mandela Lesson for Kids: Biography & Facts

Instructor: Susan Mendes

Susan has taught students in Kindergarten through eighth grade and has a master's degree in educational leadership.

This lesson will familiarize you with Nelson Mandela, a prominent figure in ending apartheid in South Africa. Learn about his early life, his rise to presidency, and how his movement continues to impact the world today.

Who Was Nelson Mandela?

Think about your home and the memories you have created there. Could you imagine the government forcing you out of your home? This happened to millions of South Africans while the country was in a state of racial segregation. Nelson Mandela became the leader against racism and promoted equality among all people in South Africa.


Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in South Africa and spent his early childhood herding cattle on the family farm. At age seven, he attended school where his teacher gave him the Christian name 'Nelson'.

Nelson Mandela began to learn about the history of South Africa. He learned that South Africa was colonized by Europeans in the 1600s and that many Dutch and Portuguese still remained in parts of South Africa, especially the capital Johannesburg. Mandela learned about discrimination against the non-whites in his country and was eager to help his people and end racism.

Young Mandela
Young Mandela

Entering Politics

In the early 1940s, Mandela moved to Johannesburg to study law and open South Africa's first black law practice. He also became politically involved through civil disobedience, or peacefully protesting against the government and its laws through boycotts and marches. Many involved with this movement were killed, beaten or jailed by police, including Mandela.

Statue of Mandela in South Africa
Mandela Statue

Fight for Equality

In 1948, South Africa became an apartheid state. This meant that by law blacks and whites must be separate, including in public areas like beaches, schools, and hospitals. In fact, between 1960 and 1983, 3.5 million non-white South Africans were forcefully moved from their homes to segregated regions! Non-white South Africans were now considered second-class citizens even though they were the majority of the population.

In order to fight apartheid, Mandela began to peacefully protest and traveled the country to encourage others to take part in these demonstrations. This eventually led to his arrest in 1955, where he was sentenced to life in prison for his role in organizing an 'anti-government' movement. In fact, the government even considered Mandela a terrorist!


Even while in prison, Mandela continued to write and speak about the inequalities faced by non-white South Africans. He promoted a democratic and free society, where all people of all faiths, races and backgrounds could live together in peace. As years went on, more and more people called for the release of Mandela from prison.

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