As news spread last week about the passing of Nelson Mandela—whose patient, peaceful fight against the apartheid made him a famous symbol for forgiveness and change—it seemed hard to imagine "anyone in our city and our nation and our world that doesn't want to do something," said Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art , in an appearance on Fox 5 in the Morning.
She and the museum are giving visitors that chance, in the way of a large condolence book open to all visitors to the museum through this Friday.
And it seems Cole imagined right: Resting beside a striking portrait of the former South African president, the book—in just four days—is nearly full. Just three to five empty pages of the book remained by Monday afternoon, says museum official Edward Burke, but there are plans to put out as many books as they need to accommodate visitors' well-wishes.
More than 1,300 people, including music legend Carlos Santana (in town for the Kennedy Center Honors gala and an interview at the museum ahead of his 2014 trip to South Africa), Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough and several museum directors, have written messages remembering the man who inspired many for the way he made change seem possible—something within anyone's reach, Cole says.
"Live your Light, Supreme Lion Nelson Mandela," Santana's entry reads. "We for you owe deepest gratitude for being a champion of equality, forgive [sic] and justice."
The ability to forgive is one reason Cole believes people have had such a strong reaction to the passing of Mandela, whose lungs had long been damaged by the tuberculosis he contracted while in prison.
That "forgiveness as the basis of positive change," along with Mandela's "dedicated participation in the struggle for a much better world," are what made him stand apart, but also helped the world realize those same powers existed within every person, Cole told Fox.
After Friday, the book will be sent to Mandela's family in South Africa, said Cole, who met the leader two decades ago while serving as president of Spelman College in Atlanta.
But even those that can't make it to the National Mall can join in the celebration of Mandela's life: Fans can also email their condolences, which staff members are posting on the museum's web site, or write them on the National Museum of African Art's Facebook page.
The National Museum of African Art is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.