Abdias do Nascimento - R.I.P. - Brazilian Civil Rights
Abdias do Nascimento, Rights Voice, Dies at 97
by Bruce Weber
New York Times
May 31, 2011
Abdias do Nascimento, a Brazilian writer, painter,
politician and scholar who was an outspoken civil rights
leader on behalf of black Brazilians, has died in Rio de
Janeiro. He was 97.
Sources differ on the date of death, saying it was either
May 23 or 24. The cause was complications of diabetes, said
Anani Dzidzienyo, a friend who as a professor of Brazilian
studies at Brown University has written about Mr.
For decades Mr. Nascimento was a dissident voice in a
Brazilian society that for most of the 20th century was
identified by its government and perceived by much of its
population as a racial democracy. Mr. Nascimento maintained,
in both his art and his political rhetoric, that Brazil
remained, in fact, a racist society.
Significantly more black Africans were sent to Brazil than
to the United States in the slave trade, and Brazil did not
abolish slavery until 1888. 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.
"He was a legend," Edward E. Telles, a professor of
sociology at Princeton and the author of "Race in Another
America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil," said of
Mr. Nascimento in a telephone interview. "From the 1930s
through the 1990s, Brazil was considered a racial democracy,
but nobody talked about race, and there was a clear racial
hierarchy. Poor people were predominantly black, and the
elites were almost all white. He wasn't afraid to tell
people that racial democracy was a myth. And he said it for
In 1944 Mr. Nascimento founded the Black Experimental
Theater in Rio de Janeiro, a troupe that celebrated Brazil's
African-influenced culture. It trained black citizens as
actors in defiance of the custom of casting white actors in
As an actor, he performed in "Orfeu da Conceiçao," the play
by Vinicius de Moraes that became the basis of the 1959 film
"Black Orpheus," directed by Marcel Camus. The troupe also
sponsored civil rights events, including the first Congress
of Brazilian Blacks, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1950.
In 1945, Mr. Nascimento helped found the Afro-Brazilian
Democratic Committee to fight for the release of political
prisoners. After a military coup d'état in 1964, he lived in
self-imposed exile in the United States and Nigeria until
the early 1980s. While in exile he began painting strikingly
colorful works featuring human and natural images in
juxtaposition with geometric shapes, suggestive of Afro-
Brazilian cultural and religious themes. His work has been
exhibited in the United States, Brazil and elsewhere.
In the late 1970s, as the military continued to hold power
(and would until 1985), Mr. Nascimento, still in exile,
helped found the Democratic Labor Party of Brazil, seeing to
it that the issue of racial discrimination was a part of its
platform. He served in the Brazilian Legislature as a
congressman and senator. He also helped found the Afro-
Brazilian Studies and Research Institute, known as Ipeafro,
in Rio de Janeiro.
"There was no more important Brazilian than Nascimento since
the abolition of slavery in 1888," said Ollie A. Johnson, a
professor of Africana Studies at Wayne State University in
Detroit and the author of "Brazilian Party Politics and the
Coup of 1964." "No other Brazilian fought harder and longer
against white supremacy and racism in Brazil in the post-
slavery era. 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."
Mr. Nascimento was born in March 1914 in Franca, in the
Brazilian state of Sao Paulo. His father was a cobbler; his
mother made candies and sold them on the street. His
grandparents had been slaves.
"He grew up around people who experienced the last days of
slavery," Mr. Dzidzienyo said, adding that keeping that
experience alive through the 20th century "was one of his
most important contributions."
Mr. Nascimento studied accounting and earned a bachelor's
degree in economics from the University of Rio de Janeiro.
He joined the Brazilian civil rights movement, known as the
Brazilian Black Front, as a teenager.
During his exile, he taught at the State University of New
York at Buffalo, where he founded the chair of African
cultures in the university's Puerto Rican studies program.
He also lectured at Yale and Wesleyan.
His survivors include his third wife, Elisa Larkin
Nascimento, who is the current director of Ipeafro; three
sons, Henrique Christophe, Bida and Osiris; and a daughter,
An activist until virtually the end of his days, Mr.
Nascimento gave his final interview to the American scholar
Henry Louis Gates Jr. for a PBS series, "Black in Latin
America," which was broadcast this spring.
"Has Brazil ever truly had a racial democracy?" Mr. Gates
"The black people feel in their flesh the lie which is
racial democracy in this country," Mr. Nascimento said. "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."
Mr. Gates asked if, nonetheless, there was reason for
"If I weren't an optimist I would have hanged myself," Mr.
Nascimento said. A version of this article appeared in print
on May 31, 2011, on page B15 of the New York edition with
the headline: Abdias do Nascimento, 97, Rights Voice.
Abdias Nascimento: Brazilian Civil Rights Activist Dies
by: Nsenga Burton
posted: May 25, 2011
The Brazil Show is reporting that Brazilian civil rights
leader, actor, painter and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Abdias
Nascimento has died. He was 98 years old. An activist since
the 1930s, Nascimento founded the Experimental Theater of
the Negro (TEN) in 1944 and created the Institute for
Research and Studies Afro Brazilian (Ipeafro) in 1981 to
continue his fight for the rights of black people,
especially in the areas of education and the culture.
Nascimento was also a congressman, senator and secretary of
defense and promotion of Afro-Brazilian populations of the
state of Rio de Janeiro, 1991-1994.
He performed in Orfeu da Conceiçao, a play by Vinicius de
Moraes that was later adapted into the motion picture Black
Orpheus. He became a leader in Brazil's black movement and
was forced into exile by the military regime in 1968 when he
moved to Buffalo, N.Y. Nascimento held positions as a
visiting professor at several universities in the United
States, including the Yale School of Drama (1969-1971) and
the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York,
where he founded the chair in African Cultures in the New
World, Puerto Rican Studies Program, in 1971.
Nascimento returned to Brazil in 1983 and was elected to the
federal Chamber of Deputies. There his focus was on
supporting legislation to address racial problems. In 1994
he was elected to the Senate and served until 1999. In 2004
he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for peace.
Nascimento recently appeared in Chapter 5 of the Brazil
segment in PBS' Black in Latin America Series. The Root's
editor-in-chief, Henry Louis Gates Jr., was the last person
to interview Nascimento. Nascimento is survived by his wife,
Elisa Larkin Nascimento, and three sons, two of them with
his ex-wife, Brazilian actress Lea Garcia, who was his co-
star in Black Orpheus.
Read more at the Brazil Show.
Watch video of Nascimento in Black in Latin America at the
44:00 mark. http://video.pbs.org/video/1906000944/
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