Desmond Tutu laughing (© Mike Hutchings/Reuters)
Desmond Tutu laughs during an interview April 25, 2006, at his office in Cape Town, South Africa. (© Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

Americans are among people the world over mourning the loss of Desmond Tutu, who helped end apartheid in South Africa and championed human rights and equality around the world. Tutu died December 26 at the age of 90.

Born into poverty, Tutu rose through the Anglican Church and challenged South Africa’s racially segregated apartheid system. After contributing to his nation’s transition to democracy, Tutu led South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which detailed the horrors of apartheid and promoted forgiveness and healing.

President Biden hailed Tutu’s commitment to truth, justice, equality and reconciliation as an inspiration in the fight against racism and extremism today.

“Desmond Tutu followed his spiritual calling to create a better, freer, and more equal world,” Biden and first lady Jill Biden said in a December 26 statement. “His legacy transcends borders and will echo throughout the ages.”

A tireless advocate for democracy and human rights, Tutu was determined, compassionate and optimistic. Forgiveness, he preached, is not forgetting but an opportunity for a second chance.

President Obama placing medal around Desmond Tutu's neck (© Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
Then–President Barack Obama presents Tutu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom August 12, 2009, at the White House. (© Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Tutu’s efforts to end apartheid earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. In 2009, then-President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.

Here is how U.S. officials and civic leaders describe Tutu’s enduring legacy:

“He inspired millions, not just in South Africa, but worldwide to stand with those fighting for freedom and justice.” — Vice President Harris.

Man comforting crying woman (© Shiraaz Mohamed/AP Images)
A woman grieves outside the historical home of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, December 27. (© Shiraaz Mohamed/AP Images)

“Archbishop Tutu’s compassion, moral clarity, and uncompromising struggle against injustice and oppression helped guide his country out of the darkness of Apartheid and galvanized people around the world to stand up for what is right. His voice will endure through the ages, and his legacy will continue to resonate as a gift to all humanity.” — Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“Archbishop Tutu preached that the policy of apartheid was as dehumanizing to the oppressors as it was to the oppressed.” — New York Times.

“A moral beacon in a deeply troubled land, the impish priest in the purple cassock stood for decades as an inspiring symbol of courage, dignity and hope in a nation that at times seemed doomed to civil war. His fervent pleas for peace and racial justice, along with his irrepressible sense of humor, were a constant balm to a country on the edge.” — Los Angeles Times.

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu led with his values, empathy and optimism.” — Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

“A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere.” — former President Barack Obama.

Woman placing flowers on fence near portrait of Desmond Tutu (© AP Images)
Flowers surround a portrait of Tutu outside St. George’s Cathedral December 27 in Cape Town, South Africa. (© AP Images)