Afro-Brazilian Civil Rights Leader Abdias do Nascimento Dies at 97
by KaShawn Archer
Abdias do Nascimento, an outspoken civil rights leader of Afro-Brazilians passed away at the age of 97. Long time friend and professor of Brazilian studies at Brown University, Anani Dzidzienyo, says the cause of death was related to complications with diabetes.
For the majority of the 20th Century Nascimento was one of Brazil’s strongest critics on racism. In 1945 he helped found the Afro-Brazilian Democratic Committee to fight for the release of political prisoners and the Democratic Labor Party of Brazil. He also served in the Brazilian Legislature as a congressman and senator. “From the 1930s to 1990s Brazil was considered a racial democracy, but nobody talked about race despite the fact that there was a clear racial hierarchy. Poor people were predominately black, and almost all elites were white. He wasn’t afraid to tell people that racial democracy was a myth. And he said so for 60 years, ” said Edward E. Telles, a Princeton professor, told the New York Times.
Nascimeto used art to depict the racist society in Brazil. In 1944 he founded the Black Experimental Theater in Rio de Janeiro, a troupe that celebrated Brazil’s African-influenced culture. The theater trained black citizens as actors in insolence of the custom of casting white actors in blackface. The troupe also sponsored the first Congress of Brazilian Blacks held in Rio De Janeiro in 1950. While in self imposed exile in the United States and Nigeria in the early 1980s, he painted works suggestive of Afro-Brazilian cultural religious themes.
Born to a father who was a cobbler and a mother who sold candy on the streets, Nascimeto joined the Brazilian civil rights movement known as the Brazilian Black front when he was a teenager. In college he studied accounting and earned a bachelors degree at the University of Rio De Janeiro. “No other Brazilian fought harder and longer against white supremacy and racism in Brazil in the post slavery era.” Ollie A. Johnson told the New York Times. “For Americans to understand him and his contribution you’d have to say he was a little bit of Marcus Garvey, a little of W. E. B. DuBois, a little bit of Langston Hughes and a little bit of Adam Clayton Powell.”
Nascimento is survived by his wife and current director of Ipeafro, Elisa Larkin Nascimento as well as three sons and a daughter. He gave his final interview in early spring to Henry Louis Gates Jr. for a PBS series, “Black in Latin America” where he discussed the continued lie of racial democracy in Brazil. “You just have to look at a black family. Where do they live? The black children, how are they educated? You’ll see that it’s all a lie. You must understand that I’m saying this with profound hatred, profound bitterness at the way black people are treated in Brazil.” Only in the last decade as affirmative action programs have taken root at many Brazilian universities and in some government agencies, has racism been publicly acknowledged as a problem in Brazil.