Mandela: Struggle for Freedom



Admission includes access to all special exhibitions, including Mandela: Struggle for Freedom.

Kids & students visit FREE during Spring Break (March 25 – April 11, 2021)!

No discount code required. General admission only. Promotion does not apply to field trips or group tours.


February 20 – September 12, 2021

Special Exhibitions Gallery

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom traces the history of the fight against apartheid in South Africa, with Nelson Mandela as one of its central figures. With immersive environments, Mandela promotes human rights with a clear message: all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Nelson Mandela was one of the most famous human rights defenders of the 20th-century and the face of a movement against racial injustice. His unbreakable will inspired people around the globe to mobilize for human rights and contributed to a worldwide crusade demanding racial equality. A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994, Mandela devoted his life to fighting apartheid and creating a more just society.

Among its many dramatic features and original artifacts, the exhibition replicates the eight-foot by seven-foot cell where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in jail, before emerging at age 71 to continue negotiating democratic change with his former enemies. Visitors entering the cell will find themselves in a multimedia theatre, with projections telling stories of repression and resilience on the walls.

Adult Virtual group tours of this exhibition are available! Click here to request a virtual group tour.

Student Virtual field trips are available as well! Click here to request a virtual field trip.

Exhibition highlights:

  • The scene of Mandela’s first TV interview in 1961, in a clandestine apartment location, recreated in front of the actual film footage (the Widlake interview). A “covert” area in this gallery zone features hidden objects, peepholes, and coded phone messages.
  • Tanks against trash-can lids, music, rhythmic toyi-toyi dancing, and rich “shweshwe” fabrics enliven the story of action and uprising. A massive, tank-like truck emerges from one wall, where visitors can grab a trash-can lid as their only protection, like students in the Soweto uprising.
  • Original artifacts, including a battered ballot box used in the country’s first democratic elections in 1994 when Mandela became president; a letter in Mandela’s own hand, sent from prison to a leader of anti-apartheid mobilization; a notepad Mandela used during democracy negotiations; and a message Mandela wrote in the Canadian Senate during a visit shortly after his release from prison in 1990.


Exhibition Press


NBC | Illinois Holocaust Museum Features Inspiring Nelson Mandela Exhibit

ABC | Nelson Mandela exhibit opens at Illinois Holocaust Museum 

Read & watch online>

Chicago Magazine | Why the Holocaust Museum Is Tackling Apartheid 

Read online>

WBBM | Nelson Mandela exhibit debuts at Illinois Holocaust Museum 

Read online>


Exhibition-related programming


Multiple dates, times – Virtual Exhibition Tours – More Information

April 22 – Virtual Panel Discussion – Justice Delayed: Wrongful Incarceration from Mandela to Today – More Information

May 4 – Virtual Lunch & Learn – My Friend: Mandela and Rabbi Cyril Harris – More Information

May 13 – Lunch & Learn – Pinchas Gutter: Reflections on the Holocaust and Apartheid – More Information

May 16 – Family Program – Mandela, Mammals, and Masks – More Information

June 10 – Lunch & Learn – Anne Frank & Mandela – More Information

July 8 – Virtual Lunch & Learn – One Woman’s Struggle in South Africa – More Information



Presenting Sponsors







Lester & Edward Anixter Family Foundation

Brenda & Lance Feis



In Honor of Harry & Harriet Bernbaum

Mitch & Cathy Feiger

Hackner Family

Jill and Rob Selati


Additional Funders

Golder Family Foundation

Keith & Caryl Jaffee


Judith & William Rader and Family

Morris & Judith Rosenzweig Family Foundation

Ilan & Rebekah Shalit

Rachel Brosnahan

Lance and Angela Donenberg

Lifeway Foods

North Shore (IL) Chapter of The Links; Incorporated

Mosaic Construction

North Suburban Synagogue Beth El Men’s Club

Quarles & Brady LLP

Laura Elizabeth Tanner


Media Partners


Mandela: Struggle for Freedom was developed by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (Winnipeg, Canada) in partnership with the Apartheid Museum (Johannesburg, South Africa). Tour management services provided by Lord Cultural Resources.

International Tour Supporters

Community Partners

Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law; Bluhm Legal Clinic – Center on Wrongful Convictions; Chicago Cultural Alliance; Equity Institute at YWCA Evanston/North Shore; Heartland Alliance; Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA); Niebuhr Center at Elmhurst University; The Peace Exchange Program of Holy Family Ministries; Shriver Center on Poverty Law’s Racial Justice Institute and Network


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