1964 — Nelson Mandela is sentenced to life imprisonment

Nelson Mandela became one of the leaders of the African National Congress in 1961, and spent the next few months constantly on the move, hiding out from the South African police as he led a bombing campaign as part of the anti-apartheid movement.

In 1962, he and nine other leaders of the ANC were captured and brought to trial for their actions against the state. Convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment on charges of treason, he was later tried again on separate charges two years later in what is now called the Rivonia Trial. Here, on June 12, 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island, where he would spend the next 18 years (of a total of 27 years he served).

Here, he became something of a martyr to his cause, and a cause celebre in other nations. His dignity and oratorical talent – along with his longevity and unimpeachable political credentials – made him the default leader of the ANC and his freedom became inextricable from the larger issues of political and racial freedom in South Africa. He was eventually pardoned and released in 1990, and later became President of South Africa in the post-apartheid era.

Referenced in:

Prophets of Rage — Public Enemy
Free Nelson Mandela — The Special AKA