At State Department ceremonies Friday, South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, became the 14th recipient of the U.S. Fulbright Prize for International Understanding. The 77-year-old cleric, a key figure in the struggle against South Africa's apartheid racial system, was honored for a lifetime of work for reconciliation among peoples. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Archbishop Tutu received the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the drive for racial justice in South Africa. The Fulbright Prize citation honors him for his subsequent work - as chair of South Africa's post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as a crusader against global human rights violations, and work to ease the suffering caused by HIV/AIDS.
The Fulbright Prize has been awarded each year since 1993 to honor the U.S.-sponsored education exchange program named for the late U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright, which has over the years brought more than 300,000 foreign scholars to study in the United States.
The Fulbright awards carry a $50,000 cash prize provided by the Coca-Cola foundation.
The prize to Archbishop Tutu was presented at the State Department ceremony by Coca Cola Company chairman Neville Isdell, a white South African who said the words of Desmond Tutu brought the immoral system of apartheid "to its knees."
"He would have fully earned this honor for his fight against apartheid alone. But of course, he did not stop there," he said. "As chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he heard stories of the worst inhumanity. But yet he calmly interrogated, and he emerged from that not with bitterness but with a wonderful sense of forgiveness," said Isdell.
The South African businessman, a student at the time of the anti-apartheid effort, said Archbishop Tutu's greatest achievement may have been preventing a race-based civil war in that country.
In a philosophical acceptance speech, Archbishop Tutu said each person has a capacity for doing both good and evil, but that the world's revulsion for human rights violations in places like Darfur, Burma, Zimbabwe and Gaza shows that evil is not the norm.
Recalling a folk tale about a barnyard chicken that became an eagle, he said every person has the capacity for soaring achievement.
"God says to us: "hey,you're no chicken, you're an eagle. Fly eagle fly. God wants you to shake yourself, spread out your pinions [feathers] and lift off. Lift off and soar towards laughter, joy. Soar towards compassion and caring. Soar towards transcendence and goodness. Fly eagle, fly," said Tutu.
Archbishop Tutu became the second South African to win the Fulbright prize, after the country's former president Nelson Mandela who was the first recipient, in 1993.
Among other winners are former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize for peacemaking in Namibia, Kosovo and elsewhere.