President Barack Obama called Nelson Mandela a “world hero.” Mandela has exhibited that rarest of qualities for national leaders: Grace.

Imprisoned by the racist government of South Africa for a quarter-century, he led the gallant campaign that finally put his nation’s black majority in power.

That was enough to earn him a gold star in the history books, but what happened next is what was so very remarkable.

Down through world history, oppressed peoples who successfully revolted against the power structure invariably took violent revenge on those who had lorded it over them.

The 18th century French Revolution is the prime example. Guillotines were kept busy chopping the heads off people whose only offense was to have been a member of the former aristocracy.

The same thing happened time and again in different parts of the world. Once free of oppressive rule, the masses reacted violently.

But not South Africa. Its black population had long been under the thumb of white apartheid, and when that majority finally controlled the government the world expected a bloodbath.

But due in a very high degree to Mandela’s influence, it didn’t happen. Instead, the new power structure offered forgiveness.

Only in the most blatant cases were charges brought against oppressors. The policy of the new government was for both the races to live together in peace.

The design of the nation’s new flag showed two streams from different sources coming together to create a new whole.

It was not all his doing, of course, but no one had a greater share in the policy of togetherness than Nelson Mandela. A world hero indeed.

Editorial by The Paris (Tenn.) Post-Intelligencer