Under the shade of tall pine trees in Fresno State’s Peace Garden, students relax on grassy knolls or take a break on wood and stone benches alongside some of the world’s most well-known social activists and peace leaders.

A bronze bust memorial of Mahatma Gandhi, a prophet of nonviolence and father of the 20th century human rights movement, inspired the creation of the Peace Garden three decades ago, just north of the Henry Madden Library.

Since then, three more sculptures were added, and the garden has become an important stop for prospective students, their families and school groups on campus tours.

This year, plans for a fifth sculpture are in the works, this time honoring Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist and political leader who became South Africa’s first black president after spending 27 years in prison for his efforts against racial injustice. He was referred to as “The Father of the Nation” and became a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1993. Tuesday, Feb. 11, marks the 30th anniversary of Mandela’s release from prison.

“There are a lot of key social figures that have made a difference in history placed over here,” said Charie Payne, a Fresno State double major in philosophy and Africana Studies from Nebraska who graduated in December. Payne also received her certificate in social justice and social change, a new program run by the philosophy and sociology departments that started in spring 2019.

“We’re one of the most diverse schools in the CSU system,” Payne said. “I think it’s very befitting of the campus to put in a statue that represents and honors Nelson Mandela.”

In addition to Gandhi, other notable leaders or distinct features in the Peace Garden include:

  • Cesar E. Chavez, founder of the National Farm Workers Association, dedicated on March 31, 1996.
  • Martin Luther King, a leader in the civil rights movement, dedicated on Jan. 18, 1998.
  • Two Canary Island pine trees were planted in 2002 to honor Fresno State alumni Todd Beamer and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Vincent Tolbert, both of whom were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
  • Jane Addams, social reformer, writer and international peace advocate, dedicated on April 6, 2006.
  • The Richard D. Ford Memorial Grove of Chinese pistachio trees at the west end of the garden was dedicated on April 22, 2009 in honor of the former dean of the School of Health and Social Work, as it was known then. He was a great supporter of the Peace Garden.

Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, Fresno State professor emeritus of social work education and peace and conflict studies, has long waited for Mandela to join the other iconic leaders memorialized on campus. Kapoor helped establish the Peace Garden.

“His life is an extraordinary example of peace, nonviolence and forgiveness,” Kapoor said. “He taught us that we have a choice of love over hate, forgiveness over bitterness and peace over anger.”

Dr. James Rocha, Fresno State assistant professor of philosophy and coordinator of the Social Justice and Social Change Certificate, teaches students like Payne and others interested in social advocacy.

“Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela has an outstanding legacy of working for social justice, whether in fighting against apartheid, through leading South Africa as their first democratically elected president, or building systems for reconciliation and equality,” Rocha said. “For this reason, it would be a true honor to have him join the illustrious figures who make up the Fresno State Peace Garden.”

To give or donate to the Nelson Mandela Tribute Fund, contact Becky Brown at beckyb@csufresno.edu.