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Race united: Frederico Baptista de Souza and the black activism in São Paulo in post-abolition Brazil (1875-1960)

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Lívia Maria Tiéde
Total Authors: 1
Document type: Doctoral Thesis
Press: Campinas, SP.
Institution: Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP). Instituto de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas
Defense date:
Examining board members:
Lucilene Reginaldo; Mário Augusto Medeiros da Silva; Kim Diane Butler; Wlamyra Ribeiro de Albuquerque
Advisor: Lucilene Reginaldo; Daniel Barros Domingues da Silva

In my dissertation I demonstrate the changes and continuities of São Paulo’s early Black movement through the life of Frederico Baptista de Souza (1875-1960). While Souza is mentioned in previous studies, this is the first work written entirely about him. These prior works reduced his trajectory to his activism in racial social clubs, and in the Black press, between 1916 and 1924. By expanding upon this limited perspective, my work brings unprecedented contributions to our understanding of Brazilian Black mobilization; it does so by offering a new perspective on the movement’s timeline and conceptual underpinnings. Through explicating Souza’s activism, I show that the Black Brazilian movement was not an isolated post-abolition phenomenon, as it drew directly from the liberal Catholicism of nineteenth century abolitionists. Building upon this foundation, Souza and other "men of color" formed the Kosmos Guild, an organization exclusively for Black Brazilians – a fact that illustrates acute racial tensions between this group and European immigrants. Souza was the primary leader of this guild from its foundation in 1908 until its last activities in 1932. Additionally, I advance existing scholarship by showing that the activism of subjects like Souza did not end in the first decades of the twentieth century. He participated in unions, political parties, recreational clubs, and contributed to several Black papers until the end of 1930. He not only coordinated, produced, and edited newspapers, but he also – alongside younger activists – organized a united coalition of Black Brazilians. Prior to the formation of the Brazilian Black Front (1931), Souza sought a democratic means of bringing together divergent Black associations to create a "race united." He consistently advocated for Black self-determination during a time when the mainstream press positioned Booker T. Washington as a validating example that slavery’s legacy did not impede the social advancement of Black Brazilians. It is true that, compared to his mother who was an enslaved woman, Souza’s hard work yielded (modest) economic success. However, his life story shows how Black Brazilians increasingly recognized that following Washington’s example was insufficient to progress socially and economically. The Brazilian elite portrayed Washington as the "great Black leader," but Souza asserted that, despite legal equality, Black Brazilians did not enjoy social justice. It was not incapacity – as eugenicists alleged – that led to Black people’s social disadvantage, but rather it was the consequence of the uncompensated citizenship that accompanied abolition. Souza’s departure from both Washington’s liberalism and the Black Brazilian Front’s hyper-nationalism evidences the pluralistic, dynamic nature of Brazilian Black activism in the twentieth century. Ultimately, through tracing the trajectory of Souza’s life, I illustrate how ideas about combating racism evolved over time. I argue that understanding Souza's experience is critical to comprehending the larger Black Brazilian movement. This is because his story embodied how connections with other parts of the Black diaspora were reinvented and reappropriated according to local needs in the fight against prejudice (AU)

FAPESP's process: 17/12859-7 - Black associativism as seen through Frederico Baptista de Souza's story - São Paulo (1870-1940)
Grantee:Livia Maria Tiede
Support Opportunities: Scholarships in Brazil - Doctorate