Black Press in Brazil

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Black Press in Brazil

The black press in Brazil has been a significant record of literary and political expression since the emergence of small Afro-Brazilian newsletters early in the twentieth century. The earliest of these to be archived was O Bandeirante, published in Campinas, São Paulo, in 1910, just twenty-two years after the abolition of slavery in 1888. In 1915 O Menelick appeared in the city of São Paulo. These two publications inaugurated the first era of a flourishing black press in the cities of southern Brazil. The focus of these journals was not to cover general news items but, rather, to develop a forum for discussing issues of concern to the Afro-Brazilian community and to support the initiatives that helped shape that community.

Afro-Brazilian social and beneficent clubs were largely responsible for the growth of the early black press, particularly in São Paulo. As the nation's emerging urban center, São Paulo attracted an influx of new arrivals from elsewhere in Brazil as well as from abroad. Alongside the burgeoning communities of Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, and other immigrants were small communities of Afro-Brazilians seeking opportunities not available in the former slave-based economies from which they came. They initially established networks based on common hometown affiliations, but São Paulo was a city defined in large measure by its ethnic enclaves of immigrants. Operating in much the same fashion, an expanding circle of Afro-Brazilians began to sponsor social events that led to formally organized social and recreational clubs. Newspapers helped circulate club news and general information of interest to the Afro-Brazilian, thus creating a sense of community for the newcomers.

In addition to being informative, the early black press provided a platform for creative writing and political analysis. The columnists typically focused on ways to uplift the Afro-Brazilian community. In so doing, the journals published between 1910 and the mid-1920s articulated ideals of Afro-Brazilian identity and position within Brazilian society.

Despite a wide range of political sentiments, early black columnists generally sought to situate Afro-Brazilians as equal partners in modern society. They often used historical references to counter attempts at marginalizing Afro-Brazilians from the core of national identity. For example, the title Bandeirante refers to an archetype of the São Paulo pioneering spirit based on the frontiers-people of the colonial era, and the first culture popularly regarded as uniquely Brazilian because of its racial mixture of primarily European and indigenous peoples. In taking that name, Bandeirante 's publishers staked the claim by black people that they, too, were an intrinsic part of Brazil's history, identity, and future. Writers venerated historical figures such as abolitionists Jose do Patrocinio and Luiz Gama. The celebrated Henrique Dias (c. 16001662), who helped defend Brazil against a Dutch invasion in the seventeenth century, had particular resonance because of black military service to Brazil in the Paraguayan War (186470). Such heroes were held up not merely as sources of pride, but as reminders of the extent of black contributions to the nation.

Rather than stress a distinct African heritage, the early black press embraced the dominant values of the Brazilian middle class. Society columns pointedly teased inappropriate behavior and even styles of dress. Editorials fretted about shortcomings within the Afro-Brazilian community and the need to master the tools of social advancement. The papers featured what they regarded as marks of refinement, such as literature. Several newspaper publishers, including Lino Guedes of Progresso and Jayme de Aguiar of Clarim da Alvorada, were avid writers who regularly included classically styled poetry and prose in their publications. In the words of a column published in Elite in 1924, "We will educate our children, we will sacrifice everything to raise them to the status of the perfect citizen, and the day will come when it will be loudly proclaimed to the whole universe that they are Brazilians as worthy as any other." Such a position became an integral element of much Afro-Brazilian political thought in the face of marginalization and economic competition with recently arrived immigrants.

Though they had a decided local emphasis, black publications were far from parochial. Named for the Ethiopian ruler, O Menelick's title signals an international consciousness that consistently informed the politics of the Afro-Brazilian community, and is also reflected in the juxtaposition of the international title and local content. Given that World War I (191418) was underway at the time these first journals appeared, there was much international news that they chose not to cover. Yet a global awareness of news, culture, and issues of Africa and the African diaspora was evident in the earliest days of the black press. It was through the black press that an early dialogue with international black movements began. Robert Abbott, publisher of the Chicago Defender, visited Brazil and began sending newspapers whose stories were translated and excerpted in local black papers. Columns from Marcus Garvey's Negro World also appeared in the Afro-Brazilian press. At a time of heightened global awareness, commentary on international items in the black press both broadened the political context and established their relevance to ongoing issues within Brazil.

Gradually, the newspapers began to focus on the reasons behind the persistence of inequality and lack of opportunities for Afro-Brazilians. In addition, domestic power struggles were challenging the political order. Among the journals reflecting this more politicized era of the black press were Clarim da Alvorada and Progresso. Both were affiliated with a group of young activists involved in the Centro Cívico Palmares, an early advocacy group in São Paulo founded in 1926. Clarim da Alvorada went from describing itself as a journal of literature, news and humor to a focus on "news, literature and struggle" (Clarim da Alvorada, January 15, 1927; February 5, 1928). Progresso became the first news outlet for the Frente Negra Brasileira after its formation in 1931 as the first national Afro-Brazilian political organization. In March 1933 the Frente Negra began publishing its own journal, A Voz da Raça (Voice of the Race). Beginning with weekly, then monthly, publication, the Voz da Raça eventually became widely circulated particularly in southern Brazil, with printings ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 copies.

Along with the Frente Negra itself, the Voz da Raça became prominent in Afro-Brazilian political advocacy, but it was not the only perspective coming from the diverse community. J. Guaraná Santana, a founder of the Radical Nationalist Party known commonly as the Black Legion, began publishing Brasil Novo, a socialist newspaper, in April 1933. Dissent from the Frente Negra's political platform also appeared in the pages of Clarim da Alvorada and A Chibata, which, in part, led to the creation of A Voz da Raça. However, the climate for open political debate chilled after President Getulio Vargas declared a new regime, the Estado Novo (19371945), that banned all political parties.

The collapse of the Estado Novo and the democratic idealism of the postwar era brought a resurgence of the black press in the 1940s. Artist, intellectual, and activist Abdias do Nascimento of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, helped open new avenues for exploring the position of blacks in Brazilian life with the creation of the Teatro Experimental do Negro (Black Experimental Theater) in 1944 and the journal Quilombo in 1948. The pages of Quilombo reflected the cosmopolitan intellectual and artistic milieu of Rio de Janeiro, nurturing its links to the black press and creative movements, particularly in the United States and Paris.

In this regard, it expanded on relationships established earlier on; Abdias do Nascimento was himself originally from São Paulo and a former member of the Frente Negra Brasileira. Do Nascimento chronicled his frequent encounters with internationally renowned guests including Albert Camus and Marian Anderson. Quilombo published articles by prominent Brazilian intellectuals and artistic pieces such as Jean Paul Sartre's "Black Orpheus." Quilombo often exchanged news items with publishers of black newspapers outside Brazil, such as an article denouncing Do Nascimento's political ambitions as "racist" imitation of black nationalism abroad (Quilombo, May 1950, 5) George Schuyler of the Pittsburgh Courier frequently sent notices to be published by do Nascimento. The journal advocated education subsidies for blacks, the declaration of race discrimination as a crime, and the inclusion of African heritage in school curriculapart of a political agenda do Nascimento helped put in place throughout his long political career.

Other black newspapers appeared during this era, typically associated with political and cultural organizations, such as Alvorada, founded by the Associação dos Negros Brasileiros in 1945. The leaders of these organizations were typically veterans of the movements of the 1930s who became deeply involved in the emergence of new political parties and trade unions. The journals published between 1945 and 1964 largely reflected the maturation of new forms of Afro-Brazilian collective endeavors in the urban south. Because they served to promote political initiatives, they are rich in details about major conferences and organizations that helped develop particular agendas within national and international Afro-Brazilian activism.

The repressive military regime that came to power in 1964 forced overt political expression underground until the mid-1970s. As in the past, the post-dictatorship opening heralded the creation of new groups with affiliated publications combining features of literary journals, magazines, and hard news. The rapid appearance and disappearance of newspapers reflected the dynamics of the movement and its personalitiesthe publications began as outgrowths of organizations and dissipated along with their finances and memberships. Black Power, African independence, and new leftist politics were some of the hallmarks of the era reflected in Afro-Brazilian organizations and publications. Journals such as Jornegro, Avore de Palavras, and Cadernos Negros articulated emerging political currents and landmark events.

Afro-Brazilian members of leftist and other interest-group organizations increasingly voiced their own analyses of the link between race and class. This debate surfaced within Versus, a publication of a socialist organization (Convergencia Socialista) in which many future leaders of Afro-Brazilian organizations participated. They formed their own "Afro-Latino America" section of the publication, in which they argued that race could not be completely subsumed as a function of class. Two developments were of particular importance at this time. The creation of the Movimento Negro Unificado in 1978 launched a powerful attack on all forms of racial discrimination, and through the collaboration of constituent black organizations from around the country systematically began efforts to dismantle them. Also in the late 1970s activists in Salvador, Bahia, had developed a new form of activism through carnival groups (blocos afros ) that celebrated black identity and African heritage. This increased organizational activity around the country led to numerous local publications.

The appearance of the monthly magazine Raça Brasil in 1996 was momentous in the history of the black press of Brazil. Published by a professional media company, Editora Simbolo, Raça was a full-color glossy comparable with the most popular national magazines. While it included some coverage of political issues, it emphasized "showing that blackness (negritude) is joyful, rich, beautiful," rather than the demands of struggle (Raça Brasil, September 4, 1997, p. 4). Editor-in-chief Aroldo Macedo described Raça's mission as giving readers pride in being black; the magazine profiled black celebrities from Brazil and abroad, offered home design and fashion advice, and provided lifestyle tips along with its coverage of political and intellectual news. Raça 's format and marketing highlighted a significant black consumer market for advertisers, attracting major clients. Its success inspired other glossies, such as Agito Geral (1997), focusing on music, and Revista Negro 100 Por Cento (1998), whose format was similar to that of Raça. Editora Simbolo also launched a magazine on black hairstyles, Visual Cabelos Crespos, in 1997.

Part of Raça 's significance was its creativity in revitalizing approaches to the black consciousness movement of the 1970s and 1980s. New voices began appearing in the 1990s; among these were the Grupo Gay Negro da Bahia, which first published its own journal, the Boletim do Quimbanda-Dudu in August 1997. The increasing accessibility of the internet propelled online publications such as Afirma Revista Online (founded in 2000) and Portal Afro (2001). Some print journals offered online versions; Cadernos Negros, a literary journal launched in 1978, established an affiliation with the online Quilombhoje.

As the black press tradition in Brazil continues to evolve, significant hallmarks have remained constant. There has always been a strong literary and artistic component, and a concern for defining negritude within Brazil as well as in a global context. The black press has never reflected the full spectrum of Afro-Brazilian ideologies, insofar as it is a medium defined by access to certain resources, and it has been closely associated with formal organizations. The internet has provided a broader forum for organizations and individuals unable to shoulder the costs of printing, although it remains out of reach for millions of the Afro-Brazilian poor.

Within the history of the African diaspora in the Americas, the black press in Brazil followed a trajectory similar to that of newspapers such as the Chicago Defender, the Amsterdam News (New York), and the Pittsburgh Courier, chronicling the aspirations and struggles of emerging black communities in U.S. cities after the abolition of slavery. Elsewhere in Latin America, print journals have accompanied the growth of black organizations, such as Palenque (Quito, Ecuador), a publication of the Centro Cultural Afro-Ecuatoriano first appearing in 1982. The Brazilian black press, especially through its numerous connections to significant figures from Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas who corresponded with and visited Brazil, also constitutes an important part of the intellectual and political literature of the global African diaspora.

See also Abdias do Nascimento; Frente Negra Brasileira; Journalism; Pittsburgh Courier ; Schuyler, George S.


Butler, Kim D. Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition São Paulo and Salvador. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Clarim da Alvorada (São Paulo). January 15, 1927, and February 5, 1928.

Elite (São Paulo). January 20, 1924.

Ferrara, Miriam Nicolau. A Imprensa Negra Paulista, 19151963. São Paulo: FFLCH/USP, 1986.

Hanchard, Michael George. Orpheus and Power: The Movimento Negro of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil, 19451988. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.

Quilombo (bound facsimile edition). São Paulo: Editora 34,2003.

Quilombo (Rio de Janeiro), May 1950.

Raça Brasil. September 4, 1997.

kim d. butler (2005)